Family

Family and Geneology

Sometimes I write about family. This can be stuff about my wife and kids, to things about my or my wife's extended family, or about the way that families function nowadays.

The Mind of a Seven Year Old Boy

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Liam on a bridge over Big Creek, in Roswell near our houseFor some reason, the whole family had weird dreams last night. I was actually shaken awake by my wife after I called out. I had never done that before. I had been having a perfectly ordinary dream that suddenly went freaky. I did finally manage to fall back to sleep, but when we all woke up this morning, we found that we all had similarly restless nights. That's probably why, when my seven year old son came into our room and mentioned that he had had a strange dream, I asked him about it and pressed for some details.

"There was a  . . . time machine," he said.

"Oh, OK. Wait, who was there? Were you the only one in your dream?" I asked.

"No," he replied. "Mommy was there, but she wasn't a mommy. And there was a really cool robot. And there were two, no three, Skylanders."

"And what happened?" I asked, intrigued.

"Well, we traveled to another world, and it was another time. And there was this step-mother, and two step-sisters, and they were trying to kill us!"

"Wow, that's really interesting." I was amused at his imagination. "So was Godzilla there?"

"I didn't think of him," he said, and thought for a second. "If I had, I'm sure he would have been there."

I told my wife this story later and she just burst out laughing. The mind of a seven year old boy is a wonderful thing.



Arduino Stopwatch timer for Science expo project

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My son Liam is doing a Science expo project. It's sort of like a science fair, but in second grade they don't do judging. It's just a demonstration, and he'll get a participation ribbon. I don't really care about that, I just want him to start learning the scientific method.

He came up with a great idea. He wanted to put an ice cube in a frying pan and watch it dance around. I tried to work with him on that idea, but I realized two problems:

  1. There wasn't really a hypothesis he wanted to test. It was really just to watch something cool. I certainly don't object to that. Wanting to see something cool is at the heart of science. Plus, a demonstration of a concept is a valid topic for the expo, (not quite sure what the exact concept would be here) . . . BUT
  2. Hot frying pan in an auditorium filled with 7 year olds. Not going to happen.

Liam's first attempt at a Pinewood Derby Car. It's supposed to have a Minecraft theme. (He tends to be fairly abstract in his artwork.)I kind of steared him to do something related to our last project, which was the pinewood derby car he and I built for the Cub Scouts. 

My Cousin, John Varkonda

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John Varkonda, photo by Mark Lovewell from the Vineyard Gazette, 01/01/2014My cousin, John Varkonda, has died. It was sudden, unexpected, and inexplicable. As I understand the reports, he collapsed in the morning on December 31st, 2013, was being rushed by LifeFlight to Massachussets General Hospital from his home on Martha's Vineyard, but did not make it to the operating room that might have saved him. The original diagnosis was an abdominal aneurism. This is a huge loss for all who knew him, especially for the entire community on Martha's Vineyard, but I would argue that losing a person like John is just a loss for the entire world. We all need more people like him around in any era.

I haven't interacted with John much the past few years, since he moved away from Ohio to the East Coast, and I moved to Florida and later Georgia. But we occasionally exchanged Christmas cards, and commented on each others social networking posts. But I have always admired him. He reminded me so much of his father, also named John.  Uncle John was a wonderful, boisterous, hard-working family man, and his son took after him in all of these particulars. When we were kids, John Junior was known to everyone in the family as 'Johnny Jay'. He was a few years older than I was then, and in the cohort before me and my younger sister. But among the 'older kids', Johnny Jay was a wonderful person to be around. He had an infectious smile and an explosive laugh, and I remember fondly visiting his parent's house over Christmas or New Years and seeing him joking with his father and his sisters Lynn and Amy (another pair of great joyful spirits, it seemed, in those days.)

Swedish Brandy Rings

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Finished brandy rings, delicious with tea or coffeeI'm half Slovak, and proud of it. My mother was from a small village along the Ukrainian border, arriving in the U.S. at age 6. I mention this because the tradition of baking for Christmas that epitomizes Slovak wintertime is the context into which I was presented this particular recipe. Given the name, I'm sure that my mother's Swedish Brandy Rings were not something the family brought with them on the U.S.S. Paris in 1937. But I think of it as one of her Slovak Christmas cookies. We made it every year for at least 40 years, and I continue the tradition. My wife absolutely loves these, and demands them every December.
The recipe is a simple butter cookie that is perfect for accompanying coffee or tea. Unlike other liquor-infused cookies for the holidays, it has only enough alcohol to provide flavor. It's not intended to give a kick, which is good, since I ate a bunch of these as a kid.

Lucas at Terribly Two

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Lucas at 1 and 1/2. A sweet, gentle and quiet soulMy son's name is Lucas and he is a precocious and cutie-pie of a two year old. My wife and I have been dealing with the challenges of the onset of the terrible twos, as of the last 3 and one half weeks. That's how quick the transition was. From a cute, sweet, and fairly quiet 1 and 1/2 year old, to a terrible two year old occurred exactly three and a half weeks ago, over the course of about 24 hours. By the end of that day, Lucas had become a demanding, obnoxiously independent, seemingly suicidally fearless, screaming, pounding, early to rise and never quietly to bed, ultra possessive, pugnacious, (and did I say demanding?) and demanding mass of toddler nerves.

He's still cute, when he slows down for about 30 seconds each day, those 30 seconds being distributed out in random 2 second increments throughout the very long, LONG day of parenting him.  My wife, who only just took a new job, largely to get a break from being MOMMY! all of the time, has been pulling her hair out trying to keep up with him. We both know that this is just normal two year old behavior, after all we went through this once before with his brother Liam. But when you're living through it, it's like trench warfare. Nothing exists except surviving the next day of impossible demands.

The most precious commodity

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My wife and I watch our six year old son run around every day, from school to playing with his neighborhood friends, to spending time doing homework, and maybe watching some TV, when there's enough time left over, and we laugh when he laments how hard his life is. Sure, he's got time pressure, but when you're six, I don't think you have any idea what a harsh reality the pressure of time will be later in life. How could you? I know that I probably acted just the same way when I was six. And I felt how unfair it was that I couldn't stay up until midnight like Mommy and Daddy did.

Remembering Mom

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My mother died last Wednesday, November 9th, 2011. She was 80 years old and the matriarch of our family, in the classic sense. These are the comments I made at her funeral on Saturday.


Those of you who know me know that I do not like to take the stage, to be the center of any focus, but there was such an upswelling of need in me to express myself about my Mom, that I had to say something today.

It's Going to Snow Soon

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[First posted on the Daily Kos website on October 11, 2005 -- I have to say, looking back over this from 8 years in the future, I wasn't too far wrong in this. GM went bankrupt, and we had the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression since I wrote this.  I hope that those events were *all* the bad things in the future that my aunt was foreshadowing.]

"It's going to snow soon."

I had a nice visit this past Saturday with my favorite Aunt. My Mom's sister is named Ann, but I always knew her as Keresthmama, which is 'Godmother' in Slovak. It was always nice to have a chat with her. What was odd about this conversation, however, was that Keresthmama died three years ago.

Now, I'm not one to believe in ghosts or to even have much faith in an afterlife. But this conversation hit me hard. Yeah, I was asleep on Saturday morning when the conversation occurred. I knew I was dreaming, and I know a bit about how the mind works. But I was curious, so I asked her why she had come. We sat in the kitchen of my mother's farmhouse in Ohio, and she looked at least 10 years younger than the 84 she was when she died. In the dream she was still old, but hale and smiling. She spoke as she had in life, with good syntax and a clarity she worked hard at, since she wanted to make herself understood through the strong Eastern European accent she had retained from her youth back in Czechoslovakia.