Category Archives: Fatherhood

Brilliance and color

brilliance_and_color

AT 7AM THE NEXT morning, I got up from the mattress that doesn’t have a bed frame yet and went into my kitchen to make my tea. I can see the wet street because there’s nothing covering the kitchen window—which is probably odd, since I moved here ten weeks ago, but general move-in stuff hasn’t been as important as making one single room beautiful and functional. That’s the kitchen. The boys and I live in it together. We cook together, they do their homework there, and if they don’t want to read in their room, they’re doing it down in the kitchen. That’s what I wanted when I put the kitchen together, and that’s what I got. When they’re at their mom’s, I cook in it, sit at the nook with my computer and work, and keep it nice. (Usually.)

One room at a time, as money allows. The living room is next.

I don’t remember the precise moment when I realized we could use the 25-minute drive to their school as podcast time, but it happened in that kitchen or on the way to it, and I got kind of excited. My more sciencey boy loves RadioLab (so do I), and my less sciencey boy tunes out anything he’s uninterested in and listens to the music and TV shows in his head instead, so I thought it could work well—and RadioLab Shorts are about the right length.

So we would do that. I got them up and we had breakfast and referred to the new checklist on the envelope on the refrigerator and got out the door at very nearly the appointed time.

brilliance_and_color

FALL IN WILLOUGHBY, Connecticut is retina-dazzlingly gorgeous. If you’ve ever had the experience of barely being able to look at someone who was talking to you because they were just too beautiful, it’s a similar sensation, especially along Simpaug Turnpike before it crosses Umpawaug Brook. During this part of October, every morning brings a new shock of rust and gold, and the green and yellow fade, morning by morning, like drying paint.

The RadioLab Short I already had on my phone was about an endangered bird species. There are spoilers for it two paragraphs from now (like, big spoilers for the entire episode), but the episode’s not very long, so you can listen here first if you care about that. I started it playing when we were underway and glanced to see who had noticed. Science boy was forehead-down over Rick Riordan. Music-in-his-head boy was looking out the window. I can never tell what he hears or doesn’t, but it’s generally a good bet that whatever’s already in there is more entertaining than whatever you’re trying to force through his ears.

So I let it play until it got to a point they had to understand, or the rest wouldn’t make any sense, and I paused it and made sure they did, which I also figured would get them listening in the first place if they weren’t. They made the right noises to make me go away, which are indistinguishable from paying actual attention, and I let it play again.

This episode is about a group of people who go to a huge amount of trouble and gargantuan expense to try to turn endangered whooping cranes back into a viable wild species. There was a full-length RadioLab about it; the Short is a sort of coda, in which those people realize some of the cranes are going into this lady’s yard and eating from her bird feeders, which is not good for a variety of reasons, one of which is that whooping cranes in this project have already been shot, so allowing them to learn populated areas are good foraging grounds—that’s bad.

So the endangered-crane repopulators go to the lady’s house and ask nicely, and she refuses to take the feeders down.

At this moment in the show, we’re disappointed in our own species. (Except for those of us who are longtime RadioLab listeners and can see how much time is left in the episode.)

The next thing is a phone call they recorded with her—and she is not what we expect. She’s not a crazy bird lady, or some intractable ignoramus. She’s a widow whose husband of fifty years had Alzheimer’s, and the one thing that brought him back to her was when the birds came back to the bird feeders. And then, in more recent times, amazing huge white ones started showing up. It was magical.

The hosts, as they do, performed our own thoughts and emotions for us. On the one hand…but on the other hand…but how does this change…and I won’t spoil the rest of that conversation. But in the car, driving through the painfully splendid Autumn and making the sharp right onto Cain’s Hill Road—which I refuse to stop reminding them I climbed on my folding bike with a trailer because I didn’t know the hill was there until I got to it—first I asked what they thought. And got the expected responses: Why won’t she take her bird feeders down!?

Which we talked about. And then I pointed out that there were no bad guys in this story. There were only good guys, but what they wanted was different. Then I said, What if you were a judge, and you had to decide how this should go?

Science boy, who was the main one I was talking to, since his brother was still just looking out the window, said, I think she should take them down. It’s a whole bird species!

Then, because I have a thing about including them both whenever possible, even when it’s pretty clear (as during the story the night before) that one isn’t paying attention, I said his brother’s name and repeated the question. If you were a judge, what would you decide?

He said, “I’d tell the lady that even though he’s gone, she still contains him within her.”

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MAY YOUR DAY be gorgeous and humbling.

 

my_city

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Filed under Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Kids, Parenting

RIDE REPORT: Seven Gates 50K Petite Brevet

A BREVET STARTS when you wake up. Ride preparation is backstory. It ended last night. This morning, in medias res, you do what randos have always done:

  • Eat
  • Dress
  • Stop singing and find your hoody
Controle 1: P.S. 314

Controle 1, P.S. 314, 08:00

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IT WAS EIGHT in the morning, but the gray chill wasn’t easing off. “You’ll warm up as we go,” I assured my companions, who were wearing their new real bike shorts, and we went R OUT OF CONTROLE ONTO BROADWAY.

n_broadway_pigeons

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THE SEVEN GATES 50K is a three-controle out-and-back. It starts and ends in Inwood, at the top of Manhattan, so the first thing we do is leave New York City.

Marble Hill used to be part of both Manhattan, the actual island, and Manhattan, the borough, which back then were the same thing. When the Harlem River was rerouted to truncate the tip of the island, Marble Hill got amputated. In all meaningful ways, it’s now fused to the Bronx; but civically, it’s still a ghost digit of Manhattan, the dotted outline of a toe up where no toe should be. It’s populated by the tormented spirits of doomed New Yorkers, stranded forever in a twilight existence where the subways vanish. But the Broadway Bridge goes there.

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whirring of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whir of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

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ON THE OTHER SIDE, my companions offhandedly mentioned they might be feeling the slightest sensation of coolness, so I berated them. “Are you randonneurs or children?” I sneered. “Are you riding? Like hardmen? Or OHHH, should we stop for COCOA at some nice little WARM PLACE?”

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Cocoa at warm place

Cocoa at warm place

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MILE 1.3: ENTER VAN CORTLANDT PARK BIKE PATH. If you don’t have a cue sheet, but you know where to jink over to the left past the bones of the abandoned train platform, where it doesn’t necessarily look like you should, you’ll be on a dirt-road-looking thing that soon narrows. If you did it accidentally, the sensation of being in the wrong place may stop you. You didn’t see any NO BIKES signs, but you might decide not to go in.

But if you know…

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The bottom mile and a half of what used to be the Old Putnam Railroad is now rideable hardpack, sometimes with a little mud—or more than a little—and always with stray roots and rocks and half-buried railroad ties. Then so sharp you can feel the surveyor’s line, the paving starts, and soon after this passage into Yonkers comes a passage both more profound and more nasal: Dad has promised to reveal to you the secret of the snot rocket.

 

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

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Boys!
Stay right!

THE PHRASES “NOT as steep as Henshaw, but longer” and “just downshift and you’ll be fine” trickled away almost as soon as Dad said them, weeks ago. “Two-mile climb” has remained solid in memory, and you have the nebulous sense it’s coming up. Is this it? No, this is flat. Is this it? No, this isn’t it. Is this it? Are we climbing? No. Then this isn’t it.

But now the surface has been tilted slightly up for a ways, and it’s tilting up slightly more. “Is this it?”

“This is the beginning of it…”

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“STOP!” BELLOWS THE voice falling further behind. “STOP! WAIT UP! STOP! HEY! YOU GUYS! HEY! HEY!

Like much of this route, the leg we’re on wavers more-or-less straight, with no intersecting trails or cross streets. There’s nowhere to go but forward or backwards. Instructions have been given a thrice of thrices: If we’re separated, we’ll meet up at the top of the climb, which is Gate 1.

But this rider, who on the flats enjoys passing his clubmates and wiggling his hiney at them, can be lazy on hills, a laziness that turns to indifference when he’s passed and fury when he’s dropped. His countertactic is to allow the escape group to build their lead until the gap seems too wide to bridge, and then, many heartbeats after seasoned observers will have written off his chances, to brake, plant his feet, stand in the middle of the lane, and holler.

There’s mild discussion at the front of the group, but these domestiques have been riding with him a long time. They continue to gain elevation. The occasional two-story roof shows through breaks in the treeline; the toys in those houses’ front yards look like toys. The echoing sounds of outrage become more distant.

Then an increase in volume and a decrease in echo, the words now intelligible: FINE! I’M SO MAD, I’M GONNA PASS YOU! repeated several times, and soon a red-hoodied blaze churns past on the left, past his companions, one of whom latches on and sprints. The other companion smiles silently and watches them race around the final bend—to Gate 1.

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YOU DID THE two-mile climb. What do you get on the way back?

A two-mile descent!

Stay right!

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EVERY PETITE BREVET—yearly, except I couldn’t get it together last year—I add another element. Last time it was more distance. This time it was more distance and a cue sheet.

Seven times between Manhattan and Elmsford Falls, the rail trail crosses a street or entry road. Cars could turn onto the trail if there was nothing to stop them, so there are not just bollards, but gates.

It may be conceivable that this only happens six times, and that the route designer, who’d already ordered medals with SEVEN GATES 50K engraved on the backs, had to go looking for a seventh gatelike thing on the final pre-ride, but this could not be confirmed by press time. Regardless: This cue sheet has a column called GATE, in which appear the numbers 1 through 7, for riders to whom monitoring TOTAL and LEG seems like less fun than you should have on a Saturday.

A seventh gatelike thing

A seventh gatelike thing

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Stay right!
Bike up, hold your line!

“IT FEELS A lot stronger after lunch, doesn’t it?”

“My legs feel brand new!”

Mile 15.8 is the turnaround, Elmsford Deli.

Around mile 18, a boy paying too much attention to giving his brother a very sweet pep talk and not enough to—something, we’ll never know what—went down. I heard the tone of sincere encouragement passing between them ahead, and then there was a low tangle of bike, boy, and lost shoe, and that sound of short metal tubing and forty pounds of flesh hitting pavement and sliding.

I have failed him at this moment before. When he got creamed on the flat between the two Little Red Lighthouse descents, and I carried a 16″ bike and a screaming six-year-old down to the bottom, I was angry. It was with myself, but that distinction clarifies too late to make a difference to a hurt child. And when he ate it on the playground and the first-aid pack with FAMILY BIKE on it in green marker wasn’t in my pannier, I had to borrow whatever little Band-Aid was offered from the bottom of a purse.

So first I did not run him over, and then as he shrieked so hard, still sprawled and tangled, that his voice distorted like a guitar, I leaned my head tube against a bench back and unbuckled the pannier and dug out the first-aid pack.

If this story had a different ending, my first words being Pick it up would now be slotted in behind the other things I regret in painful detail years later. But gently and firmly, opening the pack: Pick it up, you can get up, and he did. I helped him out of his frame. His brother retrieved the shoe.

The wailing had stopped. I noticed the suddenness.

His hands were okay—half-gloves—but there was road rash. Dirt was ground into abrasions up his leg and there was a good half-inch rip filled with blood, and a couple of smaller versions of it.

“It just stings,” he said. His voice was shaky. I felt my surprise change my face. “It’s fine,” he said again, still uncertain. “It just stings.”

I gave him a wipe and had him gently cleanse the wound while I got the big Band-Aid ready. How the heck had he done that? He didn’t know.

“I think you were doing a good job of encouraging your brother, and talking to him a lot, so you weren’t paying attention to the road.”

He said, “The thing about helping people is you don’t help yourself.”

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“I’M VERY IMPRESSED with you right now,” I said as I bunched up the first-aid wrappers to shove into an outer pannier pocket.

“I’m acting like Johnny Hoogerland right now,” he said.

As we rode out, he murmured, “I didn’t know I was like that.” He said it again, maybe twice more, only partly to me.

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MILE 20.1: X SAWMILL PKWY, R INTO CONTROLE. Controle is unstaffed, so timestamped receipts take the place of a signature.

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

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RANDONNEURING, LIKE MOST things, is mostly about the basics.

  • Eat again.
  • While you are doing your shoulder check, do not run off the road.
  • If your penis hurts, put Lantiseptic on it.
  • The Lantiseptic will warm up.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

Are we descending?

No.

Then this isn’t it.

Heads up!
Stay right!

z_n_downhill_zoom
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“THEY SMELL THE BARN,” says Laurent, the man I followed around for my first year randonneuring, to explain why bicycles speed up at the end of a brevet.

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MILE 29.6: SOUTHBOUND BROADWAY SIDEWALK. CAUTION: PEDESTRIANS, DRIVEWAYS.

We’re moving in 2014, and not sure where yet, so the randonneuring element I’ll add a year from now may reveal itself when we get there. If not, time limits to the controles are the obvious addition. For what is a brevet without a faint, constant trickle of fear?

But months before the Who Knows Where We’ll Land 75K, there will be the 40-mile (64-kilometer) Five-Boro Bike Tour, a fitting goodbye lap of the city where you were born, and with it maybe a little more understanding that even compared to grownups, a little dude like you can sling some respectable skills.

Or it may just be a bunch of whining—you never know what’s coming, this far out.

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n_medal_results

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Johnny Hoogerland was hit by a car and thrown through the air into a barbed-wire fence within minutes of our sitting down to watch our first Tour de France together. Parts of him were torn to ribbons. He finished the stage.

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Every rider has a rider he dreams about.
I dreamed of one day being as good as Barthélemy.

 
—The Rider
Tim Krabbé

 

seven-gates

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Seeds

LAST NIGHT WALKING BACK from a special-treat dinner at a pharmacy counter, my eight-year-old scientist asked if rum, whiskey, wine, beer, alcohol, and scotch were all the same kind of alcohol. So I told him about it, and since he recently learned about percentages, I explained what a liquor’s proof number means. He sees me with a glass sometimes, but never drunk, for which his only references are Captain Haddock in TINTIN and the sentries Toshiro Mifune gets soused on sake before he kills them in SANJURO.

That led to a conversation about the stages of drunkenness, which led to revelation of the existence of alcohol poisoning, and how it works, which led to the contexts in which it’s most likely to happen, which led to teenagers, young adults, and parties.

Which led to silence as I tried to decide what to tell them, what would scare them, and what they’d misinterpret.

So I asked what would happen if they drank, and the scientist said he’d want to run around and act silly, and I said what if you drank more and kept drinking? And he guessed he’d want to punch people for no reason, and I said, you’d pass out. Then I had to clarify what “pass out” means and this whole time, I’m wondering how much he even gets anything I’m saying. So if you pass out, I asked, what can happen to you?

You could fall down. People can laugh at you.

Take your money, I said. Punch you in the face. Draw on you with permanent marker. So here’s what you need to know. And I thought, am I going all the way with this tonight? Are they ready for this? Can I make it general enough that it doesn’t freak them out? So here’s what you need to know. What if you’re with someone who passes out? Then people can do those things to them. So if you’re with someone who passes out, you should probably watch out for them, and make sure those things don’t happen. Especially if it’s a girl.

Well that’s okay, he said, because girls don’t like to drink alcohol.

Sure they do, I said. Some do, some don’t. Some of your ideas about boys and girls are—they can do all the same things.

OK, he said.

But if it’s a girl who passes out…if you’re ever at a party and a girl passes out, sometimes there can be boys who will want to do bad things to her and hurt her.

But why? Why would anyone do that?

Because they’re not good people.

But why?

Because they’re not good people. So if you’re ever at a party, and there’s a girl who passes out, you be the one who looks out for her and keeps her safe. Right? So—what would you do?

I would punch them in the face!

Well, uh—no, you don’t have to punch anybody in the face, just make sure she’s safe, and tell the other people to knock it off.

Tell them to knock it off! That’s like how a grownup talks.

Yeah. But you be the good guys. Right? You be the ones who don’t let her get hurt. Got it?

Got it.

And then over to the silent boy who’s been holding my other hand: You interested in this?

Not really.

But he’s the one who listens when you don’t think he’s listening, and who nurtures and protects every child on the playground, and who a father once swore he wanted to marry his little daughter after he championed her safety during some swingset contretemps, and who thinks he’s a superhero, and whose safety my heart clutches for the most when he gets his chance to stand the good stand against villains he doesn’t realize use actual fists and boots, and it’s Dad who told him to do it.

seeds

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The traditional Rosh Hashanah blog

A couple of times a year, any uncertainty about what is a Jew dissipates, and I become a true member of a singular tribe, the American Jews of the diaspora, when I perform, with sincere and profound humility, our only major tradition: Googling to see when the holiday begins, what we’re supposed to already have started cooking, and what the greeting is.

1. Tonight; 2. brisket and sweet stuff; 3. L’Shana tovah.

The brisket is in; the jumble of blocky tzimmes precursor is heating around it. The boys have been guided by paternal threat and prattle through the evening pouring of the cheap red wine over meat, the morning grocery shopping with their own carts, the splendor of beef turned purple by grapes so it looks like a giant tongue, with sound effects, and onion-chopping best practices with The Good Knife. They will be recalled from the Wii for kugel insertion and the basting ceremony. I don’t know that basting is necessary when observing loose tinfoil protocol, but also can’t see a down side to it. Teach your male children to baste.

Tonight’s challah is round instead of braided because so is the cycle of creation; this is, after all, a new year’s celebration. It’s sweetened because so may your year be sweet.

This has always bothered me as a metaphor, ever since I was a child, because it’s just too facile to be recognizable. Years aren’t sweet or bitter; life is sweet and bitter. Even horrible years have the stray golden raisin in there, and good years harbor the roots of bad ones to come—much as savory tzimmes contains root vegetables (see, it’s genetic; that took no effort).

What I wish for you, and for myself, is that what has taken root in the past, no matter what kind of manure or burnt field it first sprouted in, bears good fruit in the future. I also wish you an easing of droughts and destructions, so that orchards can once again be maintained by one standard orchard’s worth of toil.

May your troubles convert to gelatin in the heat of your efforts, as melts brisket collagen at temperatures over 180°F.

May you question and break free of the traps of your childhood, just as we all, at some point, ask, “Why am I drinking Manischewitz?” And may you pass your mistakes on to the next generation, just as in the same breath, we pour Manischewitz for our own children, so that they in turn may taste the fuller flavor of rejecting the overly sweet nonsense of their parents.

L’shana tovah. May you be signed in the…sealed in…crap, I don’t know. I googled it twice already. Here:

Eat up.

rosh_hashanah_blog

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The yellow bike is sold

“This is my yellow bike,” he said, in a tone I didn’t notice at the time. I didn’t notice his face, either. I was walking ahead, holding the camera facing back at the end of a nonchalant arm. It was the day I gave him the bike. He was four. Nothing in his entire life had ever been remotely like this day. He didn’t know it was a universe where a boy could have his own bike.

I heard the tone and saw the face that night, offloading the pictures and video onto my computer. I could have missed them. I didn’t watch everything as it transferred. Instead, I learned my heart had another little door in it that could open. I learned also that his was so full that a bike could brim it over.

His fraternal twin brother liked to clean his blue bike. Liked the inclinometer I installed on it. Still wants a computer. The boy with the yellow bike just liked riding it. The day the training wheels came off, I saw him do my running dismount. Until they did, he liked to sit on the stopped bike like a cowboy on a fence during a work break and eat a sandwich. He kept growing. I got a longer seatpost for it instead of a bigger bike. He got heavier and learned how to skid. There’s about 20′ of black rubber on a sidewalk on Seaman Ave. His personal best.

Today I asked him how he felt that somebody was coming to buy it. He said he felt good, because another family would be happy because of that bike. He has a 20″ red one now.

I watched it carried to the elevator as I closed the door. The back tire is new. I didn’t tell the dad that’s because of all the skids. Let his kid write some new stories with it.

Bye, yellow bike.

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wing_96W

 

 

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Night Ride

night_ride_cover_for_blog

AT THE TOP OF THE RISE he waits for the signal from the bottom, and when he hears GO! he lets off the brake and pushes the pedals. It’s not a big chainwheel he’s got, so his feet are spinning at top speed in about three seconds—but by then he’s already flying.

Last weekend he flashed past the dip at the bottom and got twenty feet up the other side before he had to stand out of the saddle. You had to stand when you climbed because it gave your legs more power.

This time he’s going to hit the uphill with great strength, pump right up it, even the steep part, and then take the curve at the top without stopping, all the way behind the trees where no one can see him.

GO GO GO GO the words whip past his ear and make him grin, sun and shadows strobing in his eyes, and then he’s ten feet up the shallow grade, twenty, thirty, the bike slowing so soon on the steep part and he’s up out of the saddle, fists clamped around the rubberized grips, King of the Mountains, polka-dot jersey. He chants:

I-must-con-cen-trate.

I-must-con-cen-trate.

I-must-con-cen-trate.

GO GO GO GO! behind him. YOU CAN DO IT YOU CAN DO IT CLIMB LITTLE MAN CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB!

Bobby is six.

His daddy’s cheering for him. He climbs, climbs, climbs, conquers the little part where it’s steepest and you have to push your legs hard instead of just riding your bike, and then he’s out of sight where Daddy can’t see him, which is a great joke.

Walking up the paved pathway toward him is an old man.

“Hey, Bobby,” the old man says. “Remember me?”

Bobby’s still looking at him when he hears his daddy’s bike come rolling up behind him.

“Dad,” his daddy says.

“Bob-by!” says his grandpa to his daddy.

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From almost nothing

Nook on the bed

BECAUSE I BOUGHT a Nook Color a month ago, it was lying on the bed.

Because it was lying on the bed, a child picked it up and pushed some buttons.

Because he pushed some buttons, he saw a single-player chess app.

Because they didn’t get bored taking turns with the single-player chess app, I bought them a chess set and a chess book.

Because they requested it, they now get a section from the chess book and a game every night at bedtime, instead of a story.

How to Beat Your Brother at Chess

WE RIDE BIKES.

Dyckman Boys

Because we ride bikes, we get up to Isham for the Inwood greenmarket most Saturdays. It’s .6 miles. We wouldn’t walk it, and the subway or bus would cost $9.

Because the boys have a new travel chess set I got them so they could play on the bus after swim class, they brought it today and set it up where kids run around.

They explained the game to a new opponent and attracted an audience of kibitzers.

Chess audience

BECAUSE THEY’RE SO fixated on chess, and because we ride bikes to the Inwood greenmarket, and because bikes engage you with your surroundings instead of isolating you from them, they zeroed in on two men playing chess while we were riding past on Seaman.

CHESS! CHESS! CHESS! CAN WE PLAY!?

Because Inwood has an active Twitter population, I knew one of the players by reputation.

“You can’t play,” I said, “but you can watch.”

“They can play!” offered the man I’d recognized.

So we braked and walked our bikes over.

The men welcomed them, talked to them, challenged them, and taught them the game of Pawns.

They, in turn, cracked one of the men up when I said, “Hey guys, tell him our name for en passant,” and the boys yelled in unison, WHACK ’IM WHILE HE’S RUNNING!

(“I’m running, I’m running—WHACK!” the man riffed, chuckling.)

After two games of Pawns, the boys played chess, with much better kibitzing than they’d had at the greenmarket, and I learned that Sundays, they set up multiple tables for whoever wants to play and actively help kids with the game. I also learned the man I was talking to had ditched his cigarette as the boys came up. They don’t want to teach that. Just chess.

Because it was all so cool, I forgot to take pictures.

Then because the whiny hungry crabbies had arrived, we said thank-you and rode home.

Broadway Boys

We ride bikes.

I got a Nook Color.

Therefore life has gone in a completely unforeseeable way.

Children’s chess, Sundays 10am–3pm, Seaman and 207. All are welcome.

 

wing_96W

 

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