Welcome to my blog where I will post commentary on issues ranging from fiction to public policy. Tucked away in the Idea Boxes are “how to” tips on a variety of projects that have become part of our family’s culture over the years. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas there. My blog will take you through the fantastic journey of writing and publishing fiction, as well as commentary on politics, cultural trends, book reviews and family.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Traveling to Europe with Children

We spent a year preparing for this summer’s trip to Europe with all our children and grandchildren, 22 strong.  Ranging in age from 5 to 11, the eight grandchildren had finally reached an age where we thought they could appreciate being in Amsterdam, where Toby and Hinke are raising their family.  Once we had planned five days of Cousin Camp Amsterdam, it was an easy decision to tack on three days in Paris, just a short train ride away.

We thought it was a hugely successful trip and I want to share what we’ve learned.  I hope these tips will be useful if you’re planning to travel with kids.

Travel Preparation:  The key to successful foreign with children is preparation.  If they have not been prepared for the trip, their attention won’t move outside a 10-foot radius of where they are at any given time.  During Cousin Camp 2011 at home, we had a world map, with flagged pushpins bearing each child’s and each adult’s name so we could see where everybody lived and how far it was to where the Amsterdam cousins lived.  Each child also got a postcard with their very own famous Amsterdam painting and a whole year to figure out what the picture was about and to send all of us an email explaining what the artist was trying to show us.  There were children’s versions of the Anne Frank story, a Dutch/English CD from the Amsterdam Sterlings and fill-in-the-blank worksheets about famous landmarks in Amsterdam and Paris.

Public Transportation:  One of our goals was to familiarize the kids with public transportation which they rarely use in our automobile-oriented U.S. culture.  We worked on how to identify bike lanes, pedestrian lanes, tram lines and auto lanes in Amsterdam.  We studied maps of the Paris Metro and prepared the kids for where we would get off and what line numbers and colors to follow for our next transfer.

Lessons with Grandma and Grandpa:  Every day in the late afternoon, we would gather up the children—in a nook in the hotel lobby or spread out on blankets in a park—for a lesson with G&G, usually focused on planned activities for the next day.  We discussed the dangers faced by Hollanders who helped bring food to Anne Frank’s family and analogies between the Nazis and bullying in school.  They learned how to say “Bonjour, Madame” and “Au Revoir, Monsieur” before leaving or after returning to the hotel, much to the delight of our French desk clerks.

Safety:  In our meetings, we practiced what to do if you get separated from the crowd and how to use your green silicon wrist band, bearing the words “Sterling Cousin Camp 2012,” along with Hinke’s cell phone number.

Hotels and Restaurants:  Small European hotel rooms are generally designed for two adults, sometimes with accommodations for a third person.  “Quads” for four people are
common in the big U.S. chains, but you have to look hard to find rooms for four in small European hotels.  But by working through one of the online travel sites like Trip Advisor and specifying Travel with Children, you can find such rooms in child-friendly small hotels.  With a group as big as ours, we couldn’t expect to pop into a nearby cafĂ© or brasserie on the spur of the moment.  We generally had our lunch and dinner spots targeted ahead of time and tended towards family-friendly places our kids knew about in Amsterdam and Paris chains like Hippopotamus or Bistro Romain.

The Schedule:  There’s not much room for spontaneity with a big crowd that includes children.  A schedule with times to meet in the lobby and routes to follow on the tram or metro system will ensure you get to all the places you want to see.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Politics and Football

With the heat of political rhetoric spewing out of the convention halls and the passion of fall football in the air, I can’t help wondering about the source of our all-too-human need to defend our own tribe and to defeat the enemy at our gates.

I’m a sports fan, but I guess you’d call me a fair weather fan because I can ignore the victories and defeats of any of my favorite teams if I’ve been too busy to keep track of them for a while, especially if I don’t recognize many of the current players.  But once I’ve watched a couple of games, something switches inside me and it seems hugely important whether they win or lose.

There is something deep in our DNA that causes us to identify ourselves as part of a tribe.  Guess it goes back to our caveman days when we had to band together to fight off marauders—animal, human and everything in between.

Politics is like that.  When we feel threatened by a political group out to defeat our favorite candidates, the adrenaline starts flowing and we’re ready to pull out the old club to defend our brood.

I’m not saying this tribal instinct is good or bad.  I don’t think we could do anything to change it even if we wanted to.  But it’s worth remembering that the people in the other tribe have the same instinct toward self-preservation and the same visceral adrenaline response when they feel their village is about to be attacked.

The woods are going to be filled with Neanderthals between now and November 6th.