Thursday, December 31, 2015

Parenting month 62: Culture, community, and raising children

The major milestone this month was the passing away of my father.  As the funeral was in Thailand, I had gone without the kids. We also had a small memorial service in the city where I grew up, so we took a week there.  It is probably the most intensive exposure to Thai culture that my kids have had to date. (My son had gone to Thailand as a infant, so he would have been too small to remember anything.)
Robes for gifts
Robes for an offering
One problem with living in Pittsburgh is a relative lack of diversity compared to other big cities. And one consequence is that there are not many Thai.  One estimate I heard at one gathering that there were about 40 Thai families in the Pittsburgh region. (Not counting students, who are considered transient) and only about half interacted on a regular basis. So we have been essentially raising our kids as Chinese, where we would have a reasonable number of other Chinese kids around for our kids to learn Chinese together.

To prepare for the service at the Thai temple, we subjected our kids to a crash course in Thai greetings and courtesy via YouTube. One thing my son (an introvert) can handle is curtesy, so he picked up on that and handled himself as well as can be expected for a Kindergartener who does not spend time in a Thai environment. He greeting people with a wai, and when it was time to perform his role in the service, he did his part (doing things alongside daddy is also something he can do). My daughter is also well behaved toddler in public, and performed admirably for a toddler girl, presenting a charming and well behaved face to the world.
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Wai before pouring out water
Remembering Khun Bu. Watering a tree
Watering a tree

The main result of the trip was a lot of time spent with old friends, mostly a mix of Chinese-American and Thai-American families, now with children.  And we talked about the raising of children (and sometimes grandchildren). We talked about choices that we make, our kids personalities, and how they are different and lead to different challenges and opportunities. While I do have conversations about parenting in Pittsburgh with other parents at our kids school, day care, activities, and with others in community organizations I'm active in, the big difference with living in the place you grew up and being part of the mobile generation like I am is that those conversations are lacking in much of the context that comes from growing up in a community.

The conversations I have with other parents tend to be about immediate issues.  Getting in school, participating in activities, dealing with health issues. But the things that I talk with my wife, long term issues of guiding our children's growth in the context of their specific personalities, affinities, and strengths is done just with ourselves. But returning home, the conversations include how the personalities of the children compare to the personalities of the parent (current and past). And the conversations are more long term. How our children's personalities will help or hinder them in the future, and how it impacts how they deal with the world around them. And how to prepare them, not just what can be done now, but over the years to come.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

One year of taekwondo

Our son started Taekwondo soon after he turned four. We have had the fortune to be able to spend a lot of time doing activities with him, and being fairly competent ourselves, but also realized that there were things missing that we (and daycare) were not filling. One, we wanted him to be engaged in something physical and two, we wanted him to be engaged in the world apart from us.  At this point, while he was a very happy, engaged, curious, and reasonably empathetic child, he also was an introvert (not terribly surprising as both parents are as well). In his case it showed as shyness in the presence of new people, and no assertiveness of will (although this may be attributed to lack of attachment in things,) So we were looking for something that engaged him physically and grew his confidence in interacting with others. There are two sales pitches for martial arts for yourg children,  one is that it installs discipline and an outlet for rowdy, physical kids. That was not our problem.  The second is that it installs confidence. That was our goal.

Knife hand strike
Knife hand strike in Songham 2
We went to a relatively new school that was part of the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) . The impact of being fairly new are that it was still fairly small and it had not generated any black belts yet, so the first benefit was he got a lot of individual attention.  The first times he went he looked but did not do anything, which was expected. The school staff spent a lot of individual time with him talking to him and getting him comfortable. In the meantime he observed what was happening.  Eventually, he got onto the floor and started participating.

The first benefit we saw was increased confidence. Taekwondo represented a set of skills that he could learn and be competent in, and his attention span helped greatly here. He dealt with the instructors and interacted more freely with the other kids than he did before.   A few months in, he had an interview with a prospective kindergarten, and he warmed up to the staff much easier than he had to any other adult (e.g. Day care staff) before. (He usually took 3 months to warm up to new day care staff, either new hires or for when he moved rooms). The curtesies of the school have helped him navigate everyday life in interacting with adults.
Bowing before forms
Bowing before testing
The second benefit was concentration and focus, T always had a good attention span, his day care noted that he was a child who stayed in place while the chaos of preschoolers moved around him from activity to activity. Taekwondo added a long term focus onto this, coupled with his natural attention span, meant that the forms and patterns were something he could develop competency in. So, in contrast to the usual criticism of youth Taekwondo as being merely moving limbs, he learned to put power in his moves. And having an object of focus has helped in his usual shyness and tendency to freeze in public view.

jump front kick in line sparring
Jump front kick while line sparring

The other thing we are looking at in the school is how the older kids are like. Once we figured out that T liked this, and we were in this for the long term, we wanted to know who would be influencing him. In a martial arts school, this would mean the kids who reach black belt and become assistant instructors themselves. We have had some interaction as some of the teens have started assisting with classes. But my real interaction has started when I started taking Taekwondo myself. The classes are small, as it is only  two years old, but you see the teens supporting one another, and also you see the older ones, who are approaching the black belt ranks, taking seriously the role of encouraging the others, it was a different experience to have a group of teens providing encouragement to an adult (me) in my first month.
Line sparring
Line sparring

One other thing that we are looking forward to is that as the years go on, he will know people in his life who have taken this path before, and unlike sports heroes, these are people he knows in the flesh. In addition to Masters level black belts he will meet in the course of his training, he knows people with black belts or equivalent in various disciplines, and people who compete at the highest levels. So the people he sees on YouTube or in other media are real people, and represent something that can be realistically aspired to.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

21 questions to ask a child about daddy

T (5 yr old) decided that it was wakeup time. Note that today is a Saturday, and this was his school day wake up time.  So I decided that if he was going to wake up, he would (1) eat breakfast and (2) play 21 questions (

1.  What is something daddy always says to you?
I don't want to play that game

2.  What makes daddy happy?
Not fighting with T. (Note: fighting refers to the morning routine of waking t up, eating breakfast and getting to school)

3.  What makes daddy sad?
Fighting with T.

4.  How does daddy make you laugh?
Tickling T

5.  What was daddy like as a child?
Crawl a lot. When you (daddy) was really little you did not know how to walk.

6.  How old is daddy?

7.  How tall is daddy?
51 inches (T is 40 inches)

8.  What is daddy's favorite thing to do?

9.  What does daddy do when you're not around?
Working or doing ATA (Note: taekwondo)

10.  If daddy becomes famous what will it be for?
I don't know

11. What is daddy really good at?
Pushing LEGOs together

12. What is daddy not very good at?
Playing piano

13. What does daddy do for his job?
Type letters

14. What is daddy's favorite food?
Turkey (Note: Thanksgiving was last week)

15. What makes you proud of daddy?
When daddy draws in the lines

16. If daddy was a cartoon character who would he be?

17. What do you and daddy do together?

18. How are you and daddy the same?
We are both boys

19. How are you and daddy different
I (T) am short and you (daddy) are tall

20. How do you know daddy loves you?
Daddy reads to T

21. Where is daddy's favorite place to go?
ATA (taekwondo school)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Parenting Month 61: Sibling relationships

There is a giraffe way up there
There is a giraffe up there

We've been fortunate that our kids get along well with each other. My son likes being a big brother and watching over her and showing her around places, and the little one adores her big brother. So they play with each other, they cheer each other on, and she has even started letting him read to her (she still has a strong preference for mommy or daddy).  About the closest thing we get to conflict is the fact that she is only 18 months old and at that age kids kinda hit each other without thinking about it.  And sometimes ge-ge (older brother) just isn't enough for what she wants.

Carnegie Science Center
Siblings running at the Carnegie Science Center Sportsworks

Let me show you something in the art gallery
How do you like the art museum?

The other major issue of development is courage. A is an 18 month old who does not know fear. T, has always been the careful one. He was among the slow ones to interact with others in day care, and he was slow to socialize at his new school. And we note that things that he is quite competent in around us, he freezes when others are observing him. While Taekwondo is a big help in this area (competence does help in this), with testing and tournaments, this does not get all of the way there. Using the curtesies of TKD and catholic school has been one tool he can sometimes use to get over his general nervousness, and I'm teaching him some techniques from Red Cross Pillowcase Project training as well. There are a few opportunities coming for him to practice engaging the world in public, but this will a be something to deal with for a long time (both of us parents are naturally introverts, and we expect the same is true with him)

Jumping on trampoline at the Carnegie Science Center Sportsworks
Trampoline at Carnegie Science Center

In other notes, T saw his first movie in a theater, The Martian.  A now knows a fair number of letters and numbers. While slightly behind where her brother was at this point, this is without putting in any work (we think she is picking it up from two alphabet books that are on her chosen rotation).

T's first movie
Tickets to The Martian

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Parenting Month 60: Confidence and public performance

Some lists for the elder one.
  1. Favorite book: The Martian.  Runner up: Rosie Revere, Engineer
  2. Wake up song: Level Up by Vienna Teng
  3. Favorite color: Yellow, Green, and Red are the current rotation. (The concept of favorite needs some work)
  4. Favorite toy: LEGO
  5. Favorite taekwondo move: round kick
  6. Programming environment: Kodable Runner up: Scratch Jr.
  7. Museum: Carnegie Science Center
Stretching before testing
Stretching before belt testing

We are starting to get some feedback from his first year in school (Kindergarten).  The first month, there was some concern that he was not really socializing (which we expected), but that has largely ended. He is still relatively quiet, but he does interact with the other kids and all of the other teachers more. We have noticed that it seems like all of the other students (K-8) at his school seem to know who he is. We think it is a combination of being the smallest one in the school, and that he now has an identity as the kindergartener who practices piano during the after school programming.

One of the effects of school is socialization and comparison. And it seems that he has figured out that he is ahead in most areas. His reading is at least a grade level ahead. Math is actually unmeasured, but in what they are doing he has pretty down (at least if he is paying attention). Robotics and art he is ahead (basically this means he is very good at interpreting and following instructions, he really is not that good in art, no creativity. But robotics (LEGO and Scratch) is probably justified. That is called the effects of daddy school.) not sure so about Spanish or gym, but I suspect he is just fine there. The real problem right now is that he knows he is ahead.

Punching pads
Reverse punch with pads
The big issue with kids who are ahead in school is that they start to put worth in succeeding at something. And it makes struggling at something doubly problematic. In the past, he was not paying close enough attention to the other kids to matter, and mommy and daddy school was pretty challenging. So success in the past was valued in part as a reward for the effort it took. And he developed the focus and value of work to make things happen. But what we have started to notice is that he no longer can keep focused on task, and we think it is because at school, nothing he is doing requires extended effort on his part. Daddy school (museums and LEGO, woodworking, and games), is somewhat rare nowadays. But where we really see the effect is in piano. He actually does not have the endurance he used to for practicing. And he responds much worse to difficult passages. So this is a danger that we have heard about, but now we have to think about what to do about it.  On the other hand, we are really glad we accelerated him and put him in Catholic school.  Another year of Pre-K would have made things worse, and we think that in a public school, they probably would not even have noticed he was ahead at everything (he is neither behind, nor does he act up or talk a lot, so he would go right under the radar of a Kindergarten teacher with 20 kids for 2 hours the whole day.)

Watching others go through testing
Watching the others test
The other area that we are looking at is performance anxiety. While shyness is not overwhelming (he has started to learn to fall on the courtesies of taekwondo or Catholic school during regular interaction), he still freezes when he becomes the focus of attention.  We were hoping that had largely gone after a successful taekwondo tournament experience, but it is definitely still there. While he will never be the loudest or among the talkative kids in the group, we would like him to learn how to comport himself in the public eye, or at least learn methods of focusing on the task and ignoring a crowd around him.
For the younger, she now babbles with purpose. I'm convinced she is telling stories. Most fun is when she babbles while paging through a book, now we know what we sound like when we read to her :-D. Her favorite books are A Baby's First Book of Zombies and Hands, Hands, Finger, Thumb. And with those two she can do appropriate sounds effects for most of the page.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Parenting 59: First steps out into the world

One thing that makes Kindergarten such a major milestone is the fact that the kids start being comparable.  Now that they are in a setting where there are actual goals at the end of the year, we see the results of parenting and the time spent in play and exploring the world. And there is an outsider making assessments (as the Kindergarten teacher establishes where each child is and how to nurture them to be ready for first grade).

Watching a drawing robot
Two Kindergarteners watching a robot.

Some things are easy to establish because they are skills. Can the child count, read letters, read books, draw? But some things are harder to figure out by the parent, does the child show empathy, care for others, handle adversity, is the child eager to learn? These are harder to see because you cannot tell the difference between the child interacting with the parent and the child interacting with the outside world. In our case, we have to start off by admitting we think highly of our 4-yr old, seeing as we have accelerated him into an early start in Kindergarten. (specifically, a catholic full-day Kindergarten) But having the outside assessment is helpful.

Our Kindergarten teacher opened the parent orientation by telling us that they were going to be taking it slow the first two months so she could assess their levels. At that point, we knew we were in good shape because in two months in a fairly small environment (20 total Kindergarteners in two classes), we were pretty sure that T will have adjusted to give a proper accounting of himself.  At one month, they are still looking for his reading level (we note that the library books that he brings from school are gradually increasing in difficulty), math is focused on sorting and shape (no challenge yet). His robotics teacher stating that he is doing well (essentially, at this point it means he can follow instructions to put together LEGO Technic and introduction to Scratch, both of which daddy school has covered.) His writing and drawing skills are noticably better (yeah!).  He practices piano on his own (for some definition of practice), he has started playing with other kids, and his gym teacher states he is a joy to have in class.  And more interesting, since we are not Catholic, is him talking about being 'provident' (attitude derived from the name of the order that sponsors the school).

He is still an introvert, and we do not expect that to change (after all, so are we). But we want him to develop the skills of interacting with the outside world. And the small class that he is provides him a safe place to do that. And we see it in how he carries himself around us, and in public. We like watching him try to take care of others, teaching other kids how to do things at museums, being polite to adults, he has even started holding doors open for people. And we note that one thing that being taught curtesy does, it provides a framework for approaching the world. A child showing curtesy is not at a loss in how to act and removing uncertainty makes everything more comfortable.

Another major milestone is T's first taekwondo tournament.  T is in a American Taekwondo Association (ATA) class as a Tiny Tiger (4-6 yrs old). And our main concern was if he would completely freeze. I had even taught him the breathing technique for dealing with emergency that we teach in the Red Cross Pillowcase Project.  But what got him started was the fact the he had to deal with the judges, and judges were just like instructors. And T knew how to treat instructors with respect and follow instructions.

Starting his Ssang jeol baang form
junbee! Ready to start his ssang joel baang (nunchucku) form at the tournament

What makes the tournament useful was not the prize (at this age, there are enough potential classifications of awards than there are participants, so everyone gets a prize, but some sound more 'real' than others), but the opportunity for him to be in an environment of strangers and perform. And for us to see how he is compared to the other 4-6 year olds.  Just like every other environment he is in, he is clearly one of the smallest. But he is also self controlled. I found it amusing that as they were waiting (having 4-6 year old boys wait without anything to hold their attention is a loosing proposition). He would go between the standard figiting and moving to almost an exaggerated version of attention when he remembered where he was.  We also saw him around kids from the various other area schools, and we realize that our school is just like all the others, and he gets compared in the same light. His memory (in the ATA, 4-6 yr olds are not expected to have memorized their poomsae, but he was clearly doing his with the leader instead of following as most of the kids did), focus (kicks and punches with snaps) and general lack of hesitation. Given that he was among the youngest of the bunch (the others were 5 1/2-6) he compares well. And doing well in his first tournament was a great confidence booster.
Bowing out
Bowing out after his form

Tiny Tiger with Medals
Medals for "Best power" in forms, one-steps, and weapons
The other one is turning into a toddler.  She has always had a will, now she is trying to enforce it.  And for a toddler, this means being greedy, grabbing things (especially something that someone else has), toddler tantrums, and yelling. On top of that, she seems to be quite smart, able to precisely specify her desires, demonstrating a good memory, so she is very good at causing trouble.  This one is going to be a fighter, and we see ourselves having much more trouble with the little one than we did with T.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Parenting: Moving on to Kindergarten

This month was marked by another major milestone: Kindergarten, the point where the education system starts in earnest and where the effort of the school becomes comparable or exceeds the effort of the parents. In our case, the big issue here was T's birthday: his birthday is after the PA deadline. We wanted him to start Kindergarten because his cohort in daycare/preschool was all starting Kindergarten this year, so socially and academically he was ready.  (daycare/preschool promoted people based on age, so he already had almost a year of pre-K. And he maxed out on the pre-K assessment even before being promoted from the 3-year old preschool to pre-K (meaning they ran out of pre-K assessment material, they knew not to bother with the 3-year old assessment material)). The public school pathway would require that at some point, he would have to repeat a year, which seemed like a recipe for boredom.

For the two weeks before pre-K, we have been moving his bedtime and wake up time up.  From a generally 9:30 in-bed time we shifted to 8:30.  From a generally 8AM wakeup over the summer we shifted him to 7.  The week of pre-K we had him in bed by 8:30, and 6:30 wake up.  Sunday was the school welcome and orientation.  Monday I woke him up in the morning to get to school to play in their playground.  Wednesday was first day of school.  Yeah!

First day of Kindergarten
First day of Kindergarten

Main development for the past month:

We had a nearby neighbor from China that we got to know over the summer, which included two young girls. T and them played nearly daily as we were essentially the only people they knew who were not business related (and the only people for the kids to play with).  They eventually did so many things with us that we joked that they were copying our lives.

Splash, splash
Playing on the Northshore Riverwalk Water Steps

T had another round of testing, so now he has a Yellow belt with Black Strip (in the ATA system, the Yellow belt is the third belt, after White and Orange).

Knife hand strike
Yellow belt testing - Knife hand strike

T has definitely been getting more confident and expressive over the summer.  He is better about  expressing what he wants and being forceful (i.e. taking his turn).  And he is better about expressing when he has an opinion, which will hopefully help when in school.  (Taekwondo definitely contributes here)

A has turned into a 15 month old babbling daredevil.  She is a determined child when she has determined what she wants, and is willing to climb over anything to get to it. Very amusing are her babbling episodes, where she can go on babbling for extended periods of time. When she develops language skills she is going to talk our ears off.

Looking forward we see settling into his new school and getting to know his place in the class.  We also have a first TKD tournament that T will go to in September, which is a new level of performing in public

Saturday, August 01, 2015

LEGO Chain Reactions: LEGO for teaching engineering and reading

Lego Chain Reactions: Design and Build Amazing Moving MachinesLego Chain Reactions: Design and Build Amazing Moving Machines by Pat Murphy and the Scientists of Klutz Labs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very different LEGO product, it is about using LEGO system and Technic pieces to build simple machines, so it as much learning about simple machines as it is about building. And the fact that the end result is not a static object but a series of motions is a big plus in our book.

The LEGO Chain reaction set is a book with 10 plans for building a structure that supports a combination of simple machines. The assumption is that you have the LEGO system pieces (the standard bricks and plates) and it provides you with a few Technic pieces (beams and pins). For each project, there is an introduction to the project, instructions to build the project, instructions on how to work the project once it is done, and an explanation of how it works. What links the 10 projects together is use of either moving pieces or plastic balls that go in motion and becomes the trigger for the next project.

My four year old son and I have gone through all 10 projects. And we have done sequences of up to four of the projects in a row. In making the projects, we actually ran out of bricks and had to do substitutions and use Duplo blocks to get enough volume to build up the structures. With every project, I have him read the text on the project, then have him explain to an audience (mommy and any lucky visitors) what the project(s) are doing.

The fact that the projects are so different, and that after making them, they are very playable is the appeal of this. My son enjoys making the completed projects work, and especially making the chain, then trying to explain what it all means.

In the end, my assessment is that this is a great use of LEGO, build things that then have actual use, and use it to engage and educate the builder. It combines engineering and language (explaining why the projects work the way they do). And abstract enough that the builders may be able to apply these designs in new ways. Highly recommended
Explaining the four stage LEGO Chain Reaction project
Explaining how a four stages chain reaction project works
View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Parenting Month 57: The preschool years are ending

This summer is going by quickly. And in front of us we see that next month T starts Kindergarten, which is probably the point where others start to have a significant impact on his growth. (While his daycare and preschool staff are wonderful caregivers, we are clearly driving T's attitudes towards how he approaches his world as well as skills he develops, academic, social, and physical.)  Some touchpoints.

1.  He has learned to take pride in competency and the effort it took him to get there. This shows in reading, playing piano, taekwondo, building things (LEGO and wood), helping with cooking and chores around the house, and most facets of life.

2.  While we are reserving judgment on how smart he is (ok, we are pushing him into Kindergarten ahead of schedule, but that as much a result of the fact that preschools advance kids on their birthdays while the public school system advances people in cohorts as anything else (i.e. he has been in pre-K this past year since his birthday, but the standard public school timeline would have him repeating a year before he is on their timeline)), he does have an attention span and a pretty good level of perseverance (for a 4-year old). And we think the fact that he has the attitude that it is good to work hard to do something difficult as he starts his school years is a success on our end.

3.  We have had guests with us this week. One of their comments was he seems like he is the type of kid who will never complain about things being unfair because he did not get something. We are pretty sure that he has learned to value people over things (although, if the things in question are books, it is a close call), And I think that half of the attraction of usual rewards like candy, toys, and trophies is because he gets from others that he is supposed to like it. (we occasionally have candy laying out, and don't realize there is an issue until other kids come into the house, because T won't go after them)

4.  He likes helping around the house. Actually, when he makes a mess, he tries to clean up before we find out about it. It is really funny when he needs some supplies to do it. Last week he was asking me to help him get paper towels, "but don't come downstairs to look at the table"

5.  He approaches the world engaged and looking around. We see that in his visits to museums, when we go on walks in parks and trails, and especially in taekwondo (my impression that this is the biggest differentiater among the pre-schoolers is their ability to focus on the teachers and class.
6.  He is generally happy. The main testimonials are a couple kids that are in both his pre-school and his taekwondo school who have stated that "T is always happy"

7.  He plays with other kids.  This was a bit of a concern up to when he was around 3 1/2 or so.  One thing that helps is there are a number of kids just a little older than him on our street (mostly girls). Now, the preschool teachers say that our little turtle is out of his shell and they have to tell him to stop talking.  One of the joys about taking him to taekwondo is that we get to watch him interact with the other kids. And while we don't encourage it, he interacts with all of the other kids as they are waiting their turns for drills and such. As one of the smallest kids in the school (I think he is now the second smallest, one of the owners refers to him as one of their peanuts),  We don't ever see him being one of the really talkative kids in his class and we expect that he will always take time to get used to new adults (neither he nor his sister were ever pass around kids),

8.  He is learning how to present what he knows. Since we actually talk about what is going on at the museum or science center, we have been having him show the other kids and parents (advantage of having academics as parents, we actually know more than the kids volunteering there about whatever we are looking at, most of the time).  These past few months he has been getting markably better at it.

9.  He adores his little sister. (and she does likewise).  From day 1 he has enjoyed being the big brother and getting to play and help care for his baby sister.

10.  He still does not sleep on his own. Back when he was a baby with colic, the pediatrician warned us that he probably would not sleep on his own until he was four. Well, he is four, what's up (jk)  At this point he can sleep by himself and does occasionally, but he really likes to check every now and then that someone is around. And he likes the snuggle.  And, well, since I can pretty much sleep through the occasional check-in it does not bother me so why not. And I'm sure that there will be an end to this.

11.  He is very careful. In some sense this is good. There are a lot of things we never had to worry about. He tested things before trying to eat them, We never really needed baby gates with him (because he figured out how to go backwards down before he started getting to fast for us to catch him), we can let him cut food with a (plastic) knife.  We probably did not do a complete job on babyproofing things. But this goes along with not being daring in trying new things, until we go through with him first.

12.  Not very creative. This somewhat goes with being careful, but he never had the phase of coloring and drawing with abandon. So we went from scribbling to deliberate outlining shapes, but not the randomish stick drawings that are stereotypical of pre-schoolers.  I've started him on learning to draw using primitives (assembling basic shapes until they look like something) but the wild abandon that many kids keep through early elementary school never took with him.

13.  He is no longer the the island of stillness in the chaos of toddler daycare like when he was 3, but he still tends to focus on one thing for extended periods of time, even as all of his peers fly from task to task.

14.  He is becoming more expressive.  With people he knows, he is willing to express himself.

15.  In Fate Approaches terms, he would be Good at Careful, Fair at Quick and Clever, Average at Forceful and Flashy, and Poor at Sneaky.

16.  We pretty much skipped tantrums. He has occasional crying spells, but his tantrums seem like he is trying to imitate what he thinks a tantrum should look like.

17.  He has little sense of possessiveness.  His daycare teachers have commented he does not fight over toys, because he does not have that sense of possessiveness and greed. He has more of a sense that something is his, but it still is not that strong.

18.  He is pretty much what you see is what you get. No deceptiveness at all. Well, he is in the stage of saying what he thinks we want to hear (which would be considered lying if he were older), but even that is not that bad (exhibit: saying "I need a paper towel. But don't come downstairs, there is no mess")

Now we are getting ready for Kindergarten.  We are going to a local catholic school, because they are the only ones who would consider taking in someone early (with recommendations from his pre-K teachers and an assessment, of course).  They are going to get a kid who reads Dr. Seuss before entry into Kindergarten. Judging by their reactions, they can handle a wide range in a Kindergarten class.  We have found out in his daycare/pre-school that T responds well in settings with small sizes (also helped a lot in taekwondo) and we are looking forward to his starting school.

Explaining the four stage LEGO Chain Reaction project

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Lessons in teaching: teaching exploratory data analysis with R

Last spring, I took over a course labeled as information systems engineering.  This is aimed at sophomores in engineering.  Historically, this course focused on using the MS Access database.  I was asked by the department to take this over after several years of commenting that our engineering seniors have inadequate computer programming skills, as evidenced by the amount of effort they spend on their senior projects doing tasks that would have been much simpler if they tried programming.  Last year some of the faculty tried experiments in their classes where they had students code in an assignment (generally they asked for C). In every case this went very badly.  So they asked me to take this course and change it so that it covered programming and specifically to use R. (I am effectively the primary data analysis faculty here).  In keeping with the course title, I chose to focus the course on data analysis, with one month focusing on databases and how to think about data problems (and giving them time to gradually learn R), the rest on exploratory data analysis.  I used as the primary text Data Manipulation with R by Phil Spector, and as supplements GGplot2 by Hadley Whickam and An Introduction to Data Cleaning by Edwin de Jonge and Mark Van Der Roo. I presented the CONVO framework for thinking about data problems based on Thinking about Data by Max Shrum.

As freshmen, they would have has CS0 (the Association for Computing Machinery designation of introduction to computer science for non-computer science/electrical engineering majors) material covered over a two course sequence that also covers mathematics for engineering (primarily linear algebra).  The language of instruction is primarily Matlab, but they also cover C and, depending on instructor, Python (there is one module that is sometimes covered by Physics faculty, and they like to use Python).  For databases, there is another course on databases taught by an adjunct faculty who used to teach databases for information systems.

For tools I used SQLite (more on why this and not MS Access later), SQLite Manager, R, and R Studio. Prior to the end of the previous semester I sent everyone an email with links to videos introducing them to R and R Studio and encouraged them to introduce them to R through typing out a tutorial (I explained that they would actually learn R over the semester, the typing exercise was to ensure they had seen everything once before we actually needed it in class.).

For assessments, there were weekly labs for computer knowledge, exams mostly covered how to think through data problems. A semester project with two milestones (plus completed project) was the main way to assess how well they developed computer programming competency.  Each week, we covered one

We had three datasets that I used as teaching and lab examples throughout the course.

  1. Titanic survivors
  2. National Survey of Family Growth
  3. American Community Survey (U.S. Census, Pittsburgh North PUMA)

Some observations and notes

1.  SQLite vs MS Access.  I was surprised to find out that MS Access has a relatively low size limit on databases. It was not able to handle either the National Survey of Family Growth (expected) nor could it handle a single PUMA for the American Community Survey (this was a surprise).  That meant we had to use SQLite for the entire course. (my Mac students were happy since this put them on equal footing with the PC students). Next time I will just use SQLite. (and use MS Access only to explain why we are not using MS Access)

2.  Learning R.  In a pre-class survey, the entire class indicated complete lack of confidence in programming to fulfil a task (expected).  I think that the standard programming language belief that it is always easier to learn a second programming language failed in this case, because I did not realize just how bad their first experience was.  While the first month was very intentionally a confidence building exercise, I think that for a portion of the class, they really needed to start from scratch.  Next time around, I will spend an entire period doing nothing but walking the class through R.

3.  Data manipulation.  This included covering data structures (text, dates, dataframes), regular expressions, plyr, reshape, and missing values imputation.  Essentially the Hadleyverse v. 1.  One issue here was the wide variety of potential topics. While I think every topic got used by someone in their semester project, some of the student evaluations complained about my teaching topics that were not on the exam.  Essentially, for people who are only used to computing on numbers, the entire topic of data manipulation seems to be a heavy cognitive load.

4.  Visualization.  I taught qplot, but I think that I should have gone straight to ggplot.  I think that either I go the traditional route and build every type of plot as an individual entity, or I present the grammar of graphics approach and build plots. Either way, now that I've taught it, I don't think qplot helps in either, and it is a lot less capable. (every groups final project pretty much had to transition to ggplot)

5.  Projects. I let  the students find their own datasets and questions, subject to the fact that they had to write the project purpose using the guidelines we covered in thinking about data.  The big division in quality of the projects was the richness of the dataset.  Next time, I will be a lot more strict on the dataset, in particular, I had a subjective guideline that they should not consider it practical to look at the whole dataset. In some cases, this still was a very small volume, and it made for a trivial and uninteresting report.

6.  Thinking about data. I used Max Strum Thinking about data framework where for a data project, one should identify the COntext, Need, Vision, Outcome.  Every week we read a contemporary news article that included a data component (mostly from the website)  Each discussion opened up with class discussion to summarize the article into this CONVO framework, then a discussion of the analysis in the article itself.  This actually worked out pretty well.  Each exam had at least one CONVO focused question, and generally they did well (and of the people who did not, there were no surprises based on class participation)

7.  News articles.  I had a wide range of news articles that we covered in a weekly discussion, drawn mostly from, the Upshot column from the New York Times, and the data series from the Washington Post.  Each article was assigned at the end of the week, for discussion in the Tuesday morning lecture.  Discussion opened up with a summary based on the CONVO framework, then we evaluated the data analysis presented in the article, followed by how we could change it to make it better or to answer a different question.  These class periods were fun. My goal was to take 15 minutes for each article, in a few cases we were on a roll so we let it go to 30 minutes.  I had good participation.  And it showed in the CONVO question on exams, and generally people did well when I asked them to imagine a data analysis based on data presented on a test (this was the last part of a multi part question, where the other parts were about the data presented). One disappointing thing was that when it came time for course evaluations, I was rated poorly with how the class material relates to the everyday world (like all engineering courses do). So I have to figure this one out.

8.  Course evaluations. When course evaluations came in, they were roughly a uniform distribution, which makes them very hard to interpret. In addition, comments that expressed weaknesses were mirrored in the comments that expressed strengths. So that meant that I had terrible averages and a chat with my department chair.  Fortunately for me, the generally accepted belief is that the broad diversity in the teaching evaluation is due to pushing the students harder (i.e. making them do programming again) and that this is part of improving the department as a whole. Hopefully when he meets the dean to review the faculty the dean agrees with this assessment as well.

9.  Class projects.  About a quarter of the projects (teams of1, 2, or 3) were genuinely impressive. Many projects with 100,000s of records, a few with millions of records, several dimensions, and data analysis that used layered visualizations to explore.  Most projects were a little more modest, thousands of data points and reasonable visualizations. Some projects were personal in nature (looking at issues in their home towns), others were fun (several projects revolved around music or sports) A number showed evidence of lack of confidence, shown in very unambitious data sets.  The issue with this group is how hard to push. One of the known problems with CS0 or CS1 is that they complete destroy people's confidence in programming, and a substantial portion of those who take one of their courses completely leave the field, or in the case of engineers, avoid programming at all costs in the future.

Next time around:

1.  Using a framework like CONVO (Max Strum) works. I am pretty sure everyone at least learned how to think about problems and settings.
2.  Skip MS Access.  I think I probably spent too much time on databases and working with the MS Access interface.  Next time, going straight to SQL is probably enough, given that the limits on MS Access means that we cannot do interesting datasets.
3.  I liked using three datasets the entire course.  Actually, some of them used the American Community Survey for their semester projects (after reading in multiple PUMA, e.g. an entire metropolitan area instead of only one PUMA).
4.  One question that I will have to think about is how much of a do-over of CS0 this course will be.  Clearly, as it is most of the class seems to get it the second time around and a good portion are pretty impressive. But there is a pretty large fraction that finished CS0 absolutely convinced that programming is forever beyond them.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Data Manipulation with R by Spector: Book Review

Data Manipulation with RData Manipulation with R by Phil Spector
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The quality that programming language based data analysis environments have that menu driven or batch environments do not is the ability to manipulate data. That means transforming data into usable forms, but it also means cleaning data, manipulating text, transforming data formats, and extracting data from free text. While R falls into this category of data analysis environment, almost all of the available material focuses on the application of statistical methods in R. This fills a much needed niche in how to process data. I still do not regard R as my goto tool for data manipulation, but this book means I am more likely to stay in R than otherwise. I used this as a textbook in a lower division data analysis course and the class went from a group that only half remembers Matlab to being able to process and analyze fairly large datasets. A comment I received was "I looked back on the work done in this project and I cannot believe I actually did that!"

The first part of the book is reading in data and writing out results. It discusses both text (csv, delimited, fixed) and working with relational database. One note is that the database they use is MySQL. This was easily convertible to SQLite, which is what I used in my class because my students are not IT savvy. I also used supplementary material for SQL (which is readily available) Then putting things together into data frames.

Next are a series of data types: datetimes, factors, numbers. For people who have only worked in Excel, these are deal breakers. Even using Excel, these are areas that often go unnoticed by students and lead to problems.

Character manipulation is about working with strings and a gentle introduction to regular expressions. For many of my students, they have never manipulated text programmaticly before, so this chapter was quite successful. For Regular expressions, well it provided a taste of it, enough to solve the lab assignment. I supplemented it with other material, but noone was going to learn regular expressions in 5 pages.

The best part of the book was the sections on aggregating and reshaping data. This is what made what my students were doing with R start to look like magic. Aggregations using the apply family of functions, reshape to convert data into long or wide formats, combining data frames, and an introduction to vectorization. This is not going to make anyone a functional programmer, but these are key idioms and Spector spent a lot of time here.

I am not going to prefer R over Python for working with text and manipulating data, but Data Manipulation with R shows how to do some non-obvious things. The examples are all interesting enough to be useful, and they all work as is. And this goes deep enough into some pretty powerful capabilities that expanded my students understanding of what is possible. While it is becoming dated (an update would have to include dplyr), the approaches it provides put the reader well on their way to being an accomplished R programmer, not just someone who feeds data into functions.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Parenting month 56: Hosting people in Pittsburgh

Memories from this past month was playing host to people.  The highlight was the visit of the older cousin. The first time that their older cousin came to Pittsburgh was when T was just born, so these visits over the years have been touchpoints on both (now all three) of them maturing.

Cousins reading
Cousins reading and laughing (and definitely not settling down before bedtime)

We covered many of our usual activities: playing with LEGO, reading books, going to the Carnegie Science Center and the Museum of Natural History.

Paleontologist dig at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Paleontologists at work

There is a box turtle looking at us
There is a box turtle looking at us
P' J was adamant the entire trip that he did not want a younger sister. He is just getting to that age where girls are not fun.

Big cousin reading to little cousin
Reading for his younger cousin

Our other opportunity to play host is a chinese family who has moved into the neighborhood for the summer. They have two young girls, so they look for things to do around the city.  And we get to run into them in many of the family destinations.

We met each other at the zoo

Pittsburgh zoo visit for Fathers Day
Polar bear looking at two juvenile humans through the glass

Pittsburgh zoo visit for Fathers Day
Diver at Pittsburgh aquarium cleaning the glass

the museum of natural history and the science center. We enjoyed showing them how we maximize our enjoyment of these places.  The other benefit of this is that T has other kids around close to his age who speak Chinese in normal conversation. We have seen the chinese kids in his daycare gradually stop using chinese, even the ones who go to chinese school, and all of the parents think about what to do about that. But having peers having fun in the language may help.

In other news, T achieved his yellow belt (in ATA Taekwondo, yellow is after orange which is after white).

Jump kick at ATA Taekwondo testing
Line sparring while testing for yellow belt

One thing we are gratified by is that the school maintains individual standards, even at this age. They have a sense of what he is capable of, and hold him to it. So things that they may let slide with other 4-year olds, they don't let T get away with.  (and this goes for testing too, I watched them make a group of 4/5 year olds repeat their forms during testing because that group could have done better)  T responds as well. He is still too much in his own world to consider that he is being held to a higher standard.  A funny, a couple of the moms commented to me that they point out T to their kids as an example of focusing during class.

A's milestone for this month is walking. She always gave the impression that she would have preferred to skip the crawling segment and go to walking, now she can walk reasonable reliably (i.e. in the toddler way of wobbling around trying to keep balance.) And she likes to practice following people around. It is very funny when T is trying to get away, and they go around in circles around the house.

Coming up, a couple more lazy months of summer as we look forward to T starting kindergarten in the fall.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Applied Predictive Modeling By Kuhn and Johnson: Book Review

Applied Predictive ModelingApplied Predictive Modeling by Max Kuhn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I regard this as a more applied counterpart to more methodology oriented resources like Elements of Statistical Learning. So it applies machine learning methods that are found in readily available R libraries. In addition, the author is also the lead on the caret package in R, which provides a consistent interface between a large number of the common machine learning packages.

1. Built around case studies that are woven through the text. For each chapter, the math/stats is developed first, then the computational example is at the end, so that the example can develop data manipulation, application of method, then model evaluation. I like this as it allows for more complex and messy data sets than when using a new, small example for each problem. Also allows for better discussions when illustrating the differences between methods.
2. Data manipulation/data processing is given a separate chapter early on. I appreciate the attention given to working with the data (e.g. missing value imputation). There are other resources in data handling, but not in the same place as those that address the statistics methodology.
3. Emphasis on model evaluation. There is an early chapter devoted to model evaluation. Then each major section of the book has an early chapter devoted to model evaluation of that class of problem. This is in contrast to many books that are built around types of algorithms, and model evaluation is fit in. Methods and algorithms are relatively easy compared to the thought process of determining what is the right thing to do. It figures that this book will be strong in model evaluation when one of the authors is the lead on the caret package in R.

I used this as a supplement in teaching a data science course that I use a range of different resources because I need to cover working with data, model evaluation, and machine learning methods. The next time I teach this course, I will use only this book because it covers all of these aspects of the field.

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Monday, June 01, 2015

There are pirates at Fiddlesticks!

Fiddlesticks Pittsburgh Symphony Summer Escape Concert

Today's Fiddlestick's concert theme was summer vacations, and as we had recently taken one we were all prepped for this concert. So we very much enjoyed having the thread and mini-story of finding a vacation story for Fiddlesticks.  And as my son is getting older, he appreciates more aspects of this. 

Now that my son is old enough to be learning to play piano himself, we are more like the intended audience of the Fiddlesticks concerts.  So what do we want to see.

1.  The experience of hearing a symphony live, in concert, in a venue with the right proportions, which sounds richer and with more layers than anything that can be played on home speakers.
2.  A sense that music can exist in a context and communicates something.
3.  An experience in a place where responding to music is acceptable.

Fiddlesticks Pittsburgh Symphony Summer Escape Concert
Making a pirate ship

Certainly, the discovery time activities are meant to put the kids at ease. We watched and listened to the contra bassoon and heard a talk and got an autograph from an oboist.  We sang with Katy Williams to Bippity-Boppity-Boo and the Fiddlesticks song. We made a pirate ship and sailed it in the outside fountain. All of this was to make the kids comfortable.

Fiddlesticks Pittsburgh Symphony Summer Escape Concert
Sailing in the courtyard fountain

The activities in large part are making what is obviously adult space (Heinz Hall) into a place where kids have the freedom to explore, play, and interact with things musical, or even peripherally related to music. So making a pirate ship and sailing it in the fountain is related to a sing-a-long at the piano and watching and listening to symphony musicians playing in the lobby. And by the time they get to the hall, the kids and adults are comfortable with the setting.

In the concert itself, the sense is that music is meant to be responded to. Whether it is Katy, Fawzi, or Fiddlesticks running around on-stage or the symphony playing a piece, unlike a normal PSO concert, there is no need to try to stop a child (or adult for that matter) to express amusement, recognition, joy, or empathy in the moment. When an audience member reacts, we can acknowledge the reaction instead of trying to contain it. and it makes for a different experience (I noted that there were a number of adults in the audience without any obviously attached children, so this may go beyond kids.)

My son enjoyed the experience. I spent the concert watching his expressions change as the pieces developed and listening to his observations. Then the story he told my wife about the concert when we got back. We enjoy having music part of our lives, and want our kids to share the wonder and delight in listening and creating music themselves as they grow up,  And Fiddlesticks is a part of that.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Parenting month 55: ability vs. effort

Reading Dr Seuss for his baby sister
Reading Dr. Seuss for his little sister
In addition to our little Mexican vacation, this month saw A (12 months) becoming much more capable. She is beginning to stand, manipulate objects with her hand, and can communicate her desires.  The last is very important, because it means that the biggest obstacle to toilet training is taken care of, and her being able to communicate her desires removes much of the frustration that leads to tantrums.

T has begun copying his pre-kindergarten classmates more, and unfortunately the group he imitates is going through a baby talk phase. (we (the parents) have been able to trace it back to one girl in particular who is the origin of this).  We are hoping this is something that will pass in short order. In the meantime, we do not hesitate in letting him know we don't like it (generally emphasizing that to do fun stuff with us he has to make sure we know what he is saying!)

As A grows up, we are starting to identify divergence in how A and T developed. By the end of the first year, colic had already passed for T, although this still showed in delayed development.  But by this point T had begun displaying the focus and attention span that was beyond the norm for a toddler.  In contrast, A has the standard 1 year old length of focus (almost none) but she gives the impression of being thoughtful and smart. First, the fact that she is able to effectively communicate relatively specific and complex desires (given the fact that she cannot actually say any words.) She also can multi-task. If she is prevented from doing something, she can shift tasks until her original goal becomes attainable, she then drops what she is doing to get the original goal.  In contrast, T's main characteristic was persistence and focus, which in many cases overcomes lack of raw ability.

Making an ant at Animal Secrets, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Building an ant

We are seeing that this will lead to different sets of challenges. Discipline with T was based on providing an object of focus, then encouraging him as he achieved his object.  A is more like other toddlers, shifts from object to object, but she will either succeed or fail quickly.  T liked to stay with things to completion. A will shift focus once her objective is realized.

All that is in the future.  Our current task, getting T ready for Kindergarten.  Mommy summer school is in full force.  Daddy school is going on outing and playing games :-P

Monday, May 25, 2015

Building The Family Handyman Ridiculously Simple Shop Stool

My latest project was the Ridiculously Simple Shop Stool. The goal of such a thing is to have something that is useful for sitting, a short step ladder, or as a fairly portable work surface. It is not necessarily pretty (hence it is called a 'shop stool' instead of a 'stepstool')
Plans for the Ridiculously Simple Shop Stool from The Family Handyman
Some important characteristics is that it is built from 1X dimensional lumber (so the wood is cheap) and it is all short straight cuts, which is important because I do not have a mitre saw, a table saw, or a router. 

My backyard workshop
My backyard workshop
First step was to cut the lumber. I got 1X3, 1X4, 1X6, and 1X8 lumber from The Home Depot. They cut each board once (that is there policy) so that I can fit it in my car.  I recently purchased a Rockwell Compact Circular Saw so I now could make straight cuts on 1X or 2X lumber, which was very helpful for this project.  A couple of nice features included the fact that it is small for a circular saw (single hand operation), so I could use it and a carpenters square without clamping.  Also, using bench cookies would stabilize the board by itself (small circular saw means less vibration).

Cut boards for making the Ridiculously Simple shop stool
Cut wood for two shop stools

Measure twice, cut once
Cutting boards with a Compact Circular Saw and a Carpenters square.

Next step was sanding the boards and staining them. I used a rasp to break the corners, then three rounds with sand paper.  Staining was with Dutch Oil.

Staining wood for step stools
Staining boards

For assembly the hard part was the fact that 1X dimensional lumber is prone to splitting. I split my first two, then I noted that the instructions say to pre-drill holes to prevent splitting.  After that it was a lot easier.

The next tricky part was getting the steps in. The side slabs make it hard to get access to the tops of the steps. I think pocket screws would work, if I was up to learning how to do pocket screws.  Another new purchase was a right-angle driver/drill head for my Rigdig Jobmax multi-tool. The advantage is that I can drive in wood screws without as much space as the average cordless screwdriver.

After getting all the supports and steps glued, pre-drilled, and screwed in, we had the structure of the shop stool.

Ridiculously Simple Shop Stool completed
Complete shop stool

Next was to put finishing touches on it.  Scrapped off the excess glue.  Added non-stick safety tape on the steps.  Added hinges so that the second half of the top can be opened to make a stool top or folded to allow for steps. Added felt pads on the feet and on the top to protect the floor and to soften the sound when the top is opened or closed.

Ridiculously Simple Shop Stool
Two completed shop stools in the kitchen

A nice little project. It turns out to require use of two new tools (the Rockwell compact circular saw and the Rigdig Jobmax Right Angle driver). It will get multiple uses, as stools my in-laws like to eat at the kitchen counter when they are at our place so they can use two stools.  The steps are tall enough that my 4-yr old son can now help food prep and operate the microwave. The stool tops are good for side tables in our living room (so we can sit at our couches and eat). They also make for good work surfaces in the kitchen (that will always be clear because we need to use them for other reasons).

Very nice project. Thanks to The Family Handyman for providing the plans.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cancun family vacation

We had a rare pure family vacation (meaning the trip did not include visiting friends, family, or other business). With two kids (preschooler and baby) and two grandparents, we went the easy way out and took a trip to a family-friendly all-inclusive resort in Cancun, Mexico. The benefits of an all-inclusive resort is that very little thinking or planning is required. The knock against these sort of things is that they are completely removed from the host area, which is true. But some memories and thoughts:
Touching the sea in Cancun
Touching the sea for the first time in Cancun, Mexico

1.  Using an all-inclusive resort made it possible to have a vacation while we are caring for two grandparents, and two small children. No worries about getting food, everything is in short walking distance, and we don't have to worry about getting lost in the general traffic of everyday life. And right now, that is important.  Someday, when T and A are older and going to different cities is meaningful, we will have that kind of vacation.

2.  We think that most of the staff are recruited from Quintana Roo>. And a large fraction of the guests were Mexican. So the resort we were at was not a Little America that I thought that these places would be.  We had T do greetings and simple questions in Spanish (e.g. hola, buenos dias, buenos tardes, __ por favor, donde es ___, gracias, de nada, numbers) And staff responded properly to a four year old American using Spanish. For T, who learns Spanish in pre-school, that means that he experienced hearing and using Spanish as a working language, not a memorization exercise that pre-school Spanish is. Bonus, there were a couple of times when S and T were interacting with housekeeping (which were not generally bilingual) and T knew just enough Spanish to get the point across.

3.  We provided the staff great amusement with my high-school Spanish. Sometimes, when the staff recognized me (or T) we would have our entire exchange in Spanish. We noticed this would happen when there was another staff observing in surprise, and the staff we interacted it would give them an amused smile at their surprise. This has the obvious implication that if my not-significantly-different-from-zero Spanish was cause of notice and amusement, the typical level of Spanish for an American is actually zero.

4.  T is still the very cautious and generally shy self. He had a few scary (for a four year old) experiences over the trip. He slipped and got stuck on a bunk bed ladder, he got turned on a water slide and went underwater, and he was on a jetski (being used as a lighter to another boat) punching its way through waves and up on a beach. So we had many conversations on how being brave was doing things that were scary, and not stopping even when things go wrong.

5.  For both T and A, the best part of the trip is clearly the fact that they had mommy and daddy close at hand for large parts of every day.  Frankly, they would have enjoyed this if we stayed at home too. But they also saw us interacting with the hotel staff. And (especially since we were trying to get T to practice his Spanish) doing so with courtesy, even when there were problems with the room and travel. (ok, if you asked T, he probably would say that parasailing and always-available ice cream were pretty significant too.)

6.  A is a very expressive one-year old. That means she babbles, dances, looks at people, and acts and speaks with intent. Very clear and specific intent. In a one-year old, this is seriously cute (and we hope this means we will skip the worst of the tantrum stage). But another part of us thinks that if she is like this now, just wait until she actually has language skills. As I recall, in daycare, there was a clear hierarchy based on who had language skills (they could communicate with each other, and communicate their desires to the teachers). T was on the bottom end of this until he was 3 1/2 or so. A is going to be at the upper end.

7.  T definitely recognized that he has to compete for attention. And it is very hard to compete for attention with an expressive one-year old. Especially when you are naturally an introvert. Knowing a little bit of Spanish helped in this weekend with the staff and the other Mexican guests, a preschooler trying to speak a second language is pretty cute too.

8.  We somehow chose a resort that was also hosting a Korean church conference.That was something you don't experience on the average vacation.

9.  Grandpa and T (and daddy) went parasailing (which involved using a jetski to get to and from the boat).  Grandpa was very happy at this little adventure.

We are glad we did this. Grandparents can probably only do this for a limited number of years, and the kids are not in a position to appreciate anything more complex. When our kids get older, they will better appreciate things that are more complex, more adventurous, or more immersive.  But this is a good start.