Thursday, November 30, 2006

Kids and Chess

Off and on, for a few years now, the kids and I have been playing chess with one another. Over the past month or so, we have entered into another burst of activity. This time around it is a bit different, in that we are playing way more chess than ever before and, on top of that, our competition is getting just a tad bit more serious. (I don't give pieces away on purpose anymore!)

Why are things not as loosy-goosy as they used to be? Apart from the kids getting older (and better), the key is that Z has joined the chess club at school. (Julie too would join, I think, but band rehearsal takes place at the same time.) There isn't much going on in the club, in terms of instruction or ranking, but this regular chess time has had a contagion effect, meaning that Z's enthusiasm has carried over to the home front.

And this enthusiasm is a good thing, I think. Studies have shown that chess can provide kids with a wide array of benefits. Here are just a couple:

Strengthen problem solving skills.

Foster critical, creative, and original thinking.

Enhance reading, memory, language, and mathematical abilities.

Provide practice at making accurate and fast decisions under time pressure.

It goes without saying that there are many, many tools out there, tools that can help develop our children's young minds. If your child happens to enjoy playing chess, then by all means foster the use of this particular (and fun) tool. Your move, Z...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Milkweed Moves to Maryland

Had you been in Miss Kikkert's Honors Biology class some time in 1982, you would have experienced an amazing transformation. At the hands of Kathy Donlin and myself (extraordinary lab partners and good friends), a new creature was born out of the stuff that dissection equipment is made of. So what does it take to build the world's first cork-dog, you ask? Just a cork, a few pins, and a couple of decorative pearls. Milkweed, as he was named (for reasons I cannot recall) may seem like a hunk of junk to many, but he is the stuff that legends are made of.

A legend in his own mind, Milkweed, on the day he was "born," proceeded to Mr. O'Connor's Western Civ class where he was hurled out the window by none other than Ed Rebar. Due to the fact that Mr. O'Connor was one of the best teachers in history and a good sport, a search party was sent outside to rescue the little guy. One of the team members, my own husband (not at the time!), recalls "sadly" (quotes in place to allude to sarcasm) that they came up short on their mission. Milkweed was surely gone forever.

But was he? Begging my dad to bring me to school at the crack of dawn, I looked incessantly for this creature who was to become an icon of the Honors Program. Much to my amazement and utter delight, there he was, lying patiently in the grass...almost expecting my aid.

Kathy was so excited to see Milkweed again (I need to add here that Ed was NOT). In fact, when a term paper was due for Mr. O'Connor's class a few days later, Kathy brought in the term paper that Milkweed himself, with a little help from her, had written. Of course, Milkweed earned and "A" and a place in Mr. O'Connor's heart. In recognition of Mr. O'Connor's warm reception of Milkweed, Kathy and I presented him with his own cork-dog, Buttermilk, which I'm sure he still has in a drawer somewhere.

So why has Milkweed now left the safety and security of the NJ Desi shrine? Well, during holiday time, Julie and Z often get the chance to explore my parent's house, especially my room which exists in the form I left it. (Yes, I am happy about that!) I recently told them the story about Milkweed and decided that Thanksgiving would be a good time to introduce them to him. Fully expecting to find Milkweed where he resides - in my childhood dresser drawer - I was dismayed when I found nothing but a pile of pins and decorative pearls. Who was the culprit? Who could do such a thing? The jury is still out BUT since Z has a cork collection which he keeps at my parent's house, I beckoned him to search for Milkweed's torso. Once again I was filled with delight when Z came into the room with a cork that was none other than that of Milkweed. After quickly reassembling him, rusty legs and all, I decided that it was time for him to be back in my company...a fond symbol of the high school years that I enjoyed so deeply (and where I found my beautiful husband to boot!).


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Blue About Stairs

So it is Thanksgiving. (Gan en jie kuai le!) Here we are in New Jersey, at my parents' house, the house I (and my mom!) grew up in. It is old...way, way old. 19th century Victorian, with lots of high ceilings, ornate woodworking, spooky nooks and crannies, and...stairs, lots of stairs.

And therein lies the problem for Blue, a dog who has never really had to deal with long, curvy staircases before. Going up is tough, isn't it Blue? Paws flaying left and right in a spasmodic rush of golden fur. No prizes for gracefulness, that's for sure, although she gets the job done somehow.

Then there's going down. This can take a while. Not the going down itself. That lasts all of a second or two. It's the anticipation, the getting up the nerve. Fourteen stairs, sixteen stairs must look like a long way down to a least to this ranch-raised puppy!

I was thinking that my exercise regimen would suffer over the holiday weekend. All that good eating and drinking! But carrying an ever-heavier pooch up and down flights of stairs has been an unexpected source of both upper and lower body workout. Thanks Blue!