December 29, 2010

Christmas 2010

We took this picture to celebrate
the beautiful work
of our fantastic Wrapini (aka Tama)...

...and this one,
to show off the splendor of Sassafras Mama's
holiday home & tree
(note yummy snacks in foreground).

We had a wonderful Christmas,
complete with pleasure reading for the grownups...

...and the joys of catnip for the younger set.

Everyone was in agreement about
the joys of a shared feast.

(Warm thanks to Sassafras Mama & her crew
for once again sharing the holiday with us.)

December 25, 2010

Merry Merry

That was then...

...this is now.

The freeing the Christmas tree has become
a time-honored tradition in our family. I am
fond of the traditions that we've started
without even knowing it.
After that first year of cutting through the tree netting,
Mr. D had a pretty clear idea that it was his job.
And so it has turned out to be.

(Hope you all are enjoying
the gifts of the season!)

December 18, 2010

eBay and Beginner's Mind

Mr. D has gotten some great play out of his hand-me-down Bey Blades (thank you, Feldini's), and has long scorned the newer generation of this spinning top toy. Recently, though, he's started to realize that the older ones are harder to get (they don't sell them in stores anymore), and his friends have all moved on to the newer generation. "I think maybe I'll try to sell some of my old ones on eBay," he said to me matter-of-factly, "so then I can try the new ones out with some of that money."

"Great idea, buddy," I said. Then I said, "But I don't actually know how to SELL something on eBay; we've only ever been buyers. So we'll have to figure that out." Well of course it turns out that eBay makes it SUPER easy to sell stuff via their site, so within a half hour or so of poking around I was confident that I'd be able to help Mr. D achieve his goal.

The fact that I didn't know what I was doing meant that I was truly able to stay in that place of "beginner's mind." This led to all kinds of great conversations. Which Bey Blades should we offer? Should we do a "these are the actual Bey Blades you'll get" listing or a "You'll get two Bey Blades like these" listing? Mr. D and I talked about why some auctions are less specific than others about the actual items you'll receive. We also talked about the reputational ranking system that eBay uses to help buyers uncover less-than-trustworthy sellers; we'd been very aware of it as buyers, but it was quite different to think about what it means to EARN those ratings as a seller.

Once Mr. D had decided to opt for a full-disclosure, "this is what you'll actually get" style of selling ("because I don't like it when they don't tell me what I'm getting," he reasoned), we moved on to talking about presentation. Mr. D staged and art-directed this photo, which he felt showed off his offered Bey Blades in the best possible light:

Then we talked about how to describe the tops, spinners, and rip cords. Who would be reading the ad, the children, or the parents? People who knew about Bey Blades, or people who didn't? Probably all of the above, we decided. We wrote several drafts of "ad" copy before we came up with a final version.

Then we had to decide about shipping. Would we charge separately for it, or fold that cost into the total cost of the sale? We remembered that we sometimes sort our eBay searches according to asking price, and so we decided to take what felt like a little bit of a risk and list Mr. D's Bey Blade lot with a starting bid of $.99, free shipping. This meant that we might lose money if the winning bidder came in under the total cost of shipping (which we estimated would be about three dollars). Mr. D was confident that it was a risk worth taking, and his goal with this initial sale was "not to make money, but to build up our good reputation!"

Finally the big day came. We posted our carefully staged photo and meticulously edited description and opened up the bidding. If you click on the picture below you can see how the bidding unfolded, but first... how much do YOU think someone offered to pay for those Bey Blades? (We were thinking the total might come in around $8.00.)

It was so exciting to be on the receiving end of those bids! We knew from having been eBay buyers that some folks were actively bidding while others had set a ceiling limit and then let their computer do the rest. But we were pretty surprised when the bidding went above the $7.00 "Buy It Now!" option we'd built into our sale and then kept on climbing.

Mr. D. insisted on packing up his own merchandise:

And when the winning bidder, who lives in Oregon (we looked it up on a map), received her package, she gave us full marks for service, so our eBay seller rating is currently 100% positive; just what we were going for!

This entire process clearly made an impression on Mr. D; later on in the week he opted to give away a few Bey Blades to a close friend of his at school. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do with his remaining "old school" Bey Blades. I am looking forward to doing a lot more side-by-side learning with him over our upcoming break. Next up? SketchUp!

(I would love to hear about
some of your side-by-side learning moments
as a parent, friend, or colleague...)

December 16, 2010

The Alumni Notes Version

(Alumni Notes)

I had a fantastic time participating in a combined Twitter chat last night, with folks from both the Parentella (mostly parents) and CampusChat (mostly counselors) communities chiming in.

One of the things I love about these chats is the free-ranging nature of the discussion, even though that can also sometimes be a real challenge. I am grateful to both Amanda (of Parentella) and Kelly (of Smart College Visit fame) for their work in making it happen, and am still trying to wrap my brain around all of the interesting perspectives that were shared last night.

Several "take aways" for me came several hours later (have I mentioned that I'm a slow thinker?), as I continued to muse about the stream of comments that were related to what parents can do in support of their children achieving excellence.

Of course I thought of this Erich Fromm quote: "Few parents have the courage & independence to care more for their children’s happiness than for their success."

So one question is, what kind of excellence are we talking about?

It being mid-December, I also started thinking about students dealing with disappointment in the college search process (and in life), and that led me to thinking about the true-life stories we parents tell our children.

If you're a college graduate, do you remember the first time you read the alumni notes section of your school's alumni magazine? I do. I remember the sinking feeling I felt as I mentally compared my life's accomplishments with those of the people who had sent in descriptions of their triumphs. They were running their own companies, being named to advisories boards, welcoming beautiful children to the world, publishing novels... I was just trying to learn the admissions ropes at UPenn!

Of course then I quickly realized... it's only the people who are having amazing years who submit their class notes to the alumni magazine. Not too many people sends in a class note that says, "Spending every other weekend in NH with my ailing mother while struggling to make both ends meet since my partner lost her job in the economic downturn."

Do the true-life stories we share with our children represent the "alumni notes" version of our lives? Or do we let them see our struggles, too? Have your children seen you work and work at something that doesn't come easily to you? Have they seen you receive bad news and bounce back? Have they witnessed you clawing your way back up from a knock-down? Are we modeling persistence and resilience? I wonder.

(Cross-posted over on Relax. No, really.)
Kelly has already posted
takeaway tweets and a transcript,
so go check that out, too!)

December 14, 2010

A Show for the Wide-Minded

Planning for anything more than a day or so "out and about" has been a challenge this fall. Still, I had been holding out hope that I MIGHT get to treat myself to Scot Wittman's solo show this weekend, and was thrilled when it became clear that the stars seemed to finally be aligning in my favor. (Throughout this post, clicking on the photos will enable you to see a larger version of them.)

I'd never been to the Millbrook School before, and was glad to have detailed directions as well as a navigator (hi, Brigid!) to help me find it in the dark. The two gallery spaces were gorgeous and well-suited to Wittman's wide-ranging meditation on science, humanity, and the ways in which we make sense of our world, and if it hadn't been for the threat of impending snow and an hour's drive to my ultimate destination, I would have stayed much longer. (I was at the show for probably a little less than two hours, which was nowhere NEAR enough time to take it all in.)

(The artist & two of his subjects)

The opening was happily crowded, and included in the crowd were several of the subjects of Wittman's mischievous "re-combined" portraits of identical twins. These larger-than-life photographic studies appear at first glance to be uncomplicated "head shots" of individuals, but are in fact each a merged image created from two different portraits of a pair of identical twins. Several of the people in attendance knew the twins in question, and when I got there, a cluster of Millbrook students were excitedly talking about the print that combined two of their classmates. "He says that this is his eye," said one. For those who didn't know the twins before the show, the opening night treat was that the twins were there! So there were ample opportunities to look from the work, to its inspiration, and back again.

In the background of the above photo you can see one of the panels of another work, a separated diptych in which a non-twin student is pictured in two projected images. Most of the images were stills, but every now and then Wittman interjects a moving image (the girl on the right holds a leaf, which suddenly falls to the ground), which is gone again almost as soon as the viewer notices. This resulted in one of my favorite art-related sensations... the feeling of looking at the non-exhibit world with different expectations. Still life seemed less reliably still after this work.

The two students at the rear of this photo have just realized that one of the twin pairs are in the room and are excitedly craning their necks in order to get a better view.

Some of the pieces in the show were both engaging and unsettling, as evidenced by this Houdini-inspired piece. The straightjacketed and hooded "bodies" (there are two, which is somewhat difficult to see in this shot) had a kind of creepy allure. For me there was also a bit of Abu Ghraib resonance, which made me wonder how long it will be before hooded figures don't have that. As for the chained stump... well, what do you think this is all about? What is inescapable in our lives? How are we connected to and disconnected from the natural world?

Questions about our connection to the natural world were also raised by the collection of pieces shown in the background in the above photo. (Easier to see if you click to see the larger version of the photo.) In these pieces, several silouetted images of birds were coupled with an audio recording which participants could listen to via earbuds dangling from each frame. The recordings were sometimes bird song, but at other times... well, I don't want to spoil the piece too much. Suffice it to say that this work, with its play on expectations and the tension between live & recorded sound, was another one I could happily have spent a lot more time with.

This chocolate-covered skeleton was one of the pieces that gallery visitors tended to stop and stay in front of for a while. We are accustomed to thinking of skeletons as medical specimens or as reminders of the inherently finite nature of our existence. A chocolate-dipped skeleton seems at once irreverent and transformed. In my world, chocolate is for eating. But no one is going to eat a skeleton, right? Can a skeleton have a second life? Skeletons are meant to be clothed in muscle and flesh, but in light of the show's cloning theme, this one "takes on" a more flexible set of possibilities.

I didn't take any pictures in the second gallery space, mostly because I knew from previous experience of Wittman's richly detailed work that the images wouldn't do the work justice. Wittman has taken the unfolding progress of stem cell research as one of his inspirations for this new work, which features large "twinned" silouettes cut from maps of "twin" cities connected to research or other developments in the field. The figures all represent mind-bendingly contrasting combinations of skill sets, e.g. a figure doing a yoga stretch has three medical syringes protruding from her raised leg. The juxtapositions sometimes have a whimsical feel, while at the same time inviting a more serious second look. As is so often the case with Wittman's work, the tensions inherent in the work generate questions in the mind of the viewer, which is part of what made this show so engaging. And there's at least one piece I didn't even have a chance to talk about. I left the show wondering how long Wittman had been thinking through the ideas underlying this complex and rewarding show; when I asked him, he confirmed that some of the seeds of these works were planted over a year ago. It was wonderful to have a chance to see those seeds come to fruition...

(Some more photos of this show
by the fab Ian Bates are right over here.
This solo show is only up through January 6th,
I'm hopeful that between now and then
lots of people will take the time to
to visit the
Millbrook School and see it. Well worth it.)