Huang Family Newsletter, February 2011

A growing amount of work for Lee in the US Virgin Islands necessitated a week-long business trip there, and happily Amy and the kids were able to accompany him on short notice. So while Lee toiled away, Amy and the kids hit the beach, frolicked in the pool, and shopped the jewelry stores. Friday night, Lee's business partner down there graciously offered to watch the kids, so Lee and Amy could go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant at the local yacht club; and then Saturday, he took us all out on his new boat, making for a delightful day in the sun, circumnavigating St. John and splashing around in the beautiful water.

This month also brought Jada's 6th birthday, and her first real birthday party with friends. It was a small gathering of six of her close girl friends; they did crafts, talked and giggled like little girls do, and were soon racing around the house from all the excitement of being together. Jada was so joyous it brought a tear to my eye. And Amy's parents generously pitched in by keeping Aaron company, so even he was happy.


Kids are a Mystery Bag

I am trying desperately not to label my kids as "one angel, one devil," but so far the evidence is not helping. Any of you out there that have older daughters and younger sons may relate: the girl is flourishing in school and is generally responsive to our instruction, the boy is dark and stormy and prone to outbursts and defiance. On a spiritual level, Jada soaks up Sunday School lessons, says she believes in Jesus, and takes seriously my exhortation to "be ready when God says it's time to do work," while Aaron reacts angrily to our correction, refusing to accept that it's not right to lie and it's not good to hit.

Kids are somewhat of an unknown quantity, aren't they? Our situation is, I think, particularly so. For one, our kids are not our own biologically, so there's less of that sameness and connection. For another, imagine this if you are a parent: you did not carry that child in your womb for nine months (or dote on your wife for that long while she did), and you did not get to even see or touch that child until several months into their life. We've had a lot of time to catch up on knowing and influencing our kids since then, but any of you who are parents will hopefully appreciate that those early months of non-contact are significant.

Ultimately, whether our kids are brought into our lives through pregnancy or adoption, we who are God-fearing believe that we are given a responsibility to protect, provide, and nurture, but ultimately it is God who determines their life trajectory. It is a weighty responsibility and a harrowing ride, isn't it?

To use an analogy from the Bible, we don't know what kind of soil our kids' hearts are, whether they will fizzle out, be lured away, or grow up and bear abundant fruit. Let's do our best to cultivate and seed that soil, parents, and let's be in prayer for God to make them grow.


One Trip I Prefer to Use the Car For

As car-phobic as I am, it may surprise you that there is one type of trip I greatly prefer to do by car, which is grocery shopping. Having spent all last week (from Monday morning to Sunday night) in the US Virgin Islands, and with me at home with the kids the following Monday morning while Amy took the car to her job, it made sense for me to hit the neighborhood grocery store for some essentials to get us through the week. So, armed with three tote bags and with Aaron and Jada in tow, we walked the three blocks to the grocery store, bought forty bucks' worth of stuff, and lugged it home.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't very inconvenient, and it was fun to putter around a different grocery store than I'm used to hitting. But give me the car and our trusty Pathmark on Grays Ferry any other week of the year, please.


Junior Blogger

It may have been vacation for the kids, but I wasn't about to let our week in the US Virgin Islands go down without any sort of intellectual stimulation. So I brought a little booklet and a pack of colored pencils, and asked Jada to write and draw a little each morning about fun things we had done the day before.

Now that she has lots of words and gets lots of practice using them at school, she took to this daily assignment with gusto. Alas, some days I had to urge her on to say more than just "we went to the beach . . . it was fun." Still, here's hoping these are the early experiences of a junior blogger.


Happy Birthday to Jada

The details of Jada's first days on earth are unknown to all but God, but it is likely that she was born six years ago today, in a tiny village in southern China, and left out in the cold three days later to be found and taken to the local orphanage, where a long and arduous adoption process would result in her ending up in Philadelphia and in our family. We celebrate God's hand in her life to date, and pray for Him to continue to grow and guide her for whatever is in store next. Happy 6th birthday, Jada!

Not Yet Cut Out for Missionary Work

Like many young and enthusiastic Christians, I have harbored and continue to harbor aspirations of going out into the mission field to heed the call of Jesus to “make disciples of all nations.” And, like many young and enthusiastic Christians, I have thought myself suitably tough to withstand the rigors of the missionary’s lifestyle. In fact, I spent a whole summer in Eastern Europe when I was 20, and found the sparse accommodations and streamlined way of life not only doable but liberating.

Fast forward to my present self, standing on the brink of 40 and not 20, and I thought I was almost as flexible and accommodating. Alas, one recent trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands revealed some ways in which I have become less free. Upon arrival, I discovered our rental car place was off-site so I needed to call for a shuttle, only the line was busy for 20 minutes and counting, so we ended up taking a taxi to the place, which cost 24 bucks even though it was less than a three-minute ride. I banged on the guy at the counter to get reimbursed for the cab fare, and was generally huffy and mean as the long travel day and island heat was starting to wear on me.

The grumpiness continued that evening. After I had gotten the kids settled, Amy and I made a shopping list and I headed out to get some groceries. I got hopelessly lost, since there aren’t many road signs, and I gripped the wheel as tightly as I could, since I was trying to acclimate to driving on the left and to driving on the side of a hill. The first grocery store was closed, the second had very poor selection, the third had high prices, and I had to return to the second because they had failed to put one of my bags back in my shopping cart.

Way later than I had wanted to be out, I lugged all the groceries back to our room, growling at Amy just because I was in such a foul mood. And then, once the groceries had been put away and I had a moment to catch my breath, it occurred to me that I had gotten myself all wound up in the middle of a relatively affluent island paradise. Here I thought I was tough enough, patient enough, and accommodating enough to bear any kind of adverse and arduous condition for the sake of my God, and instead I was unraveling in a place that rich people go to for luxurious vacations.

Look, I’m not suggesting that the main or even an important consideration in being ready for the mission field is being able to bear difficult living conditions. Clearly, there is more to “the call” than being able to suffer and endure. Still, suffering and enduring does reveal where our hearts are, and after a long and frustrating travel day, my heart was being laid bare as uppity, impatient, entitled, and spoiled. As is often the case on my Christian journey, I find myself on a road that I feel I’m pretty far along on, only to find out I still have a long way to go.


Snap Back to Reality

It's always hard to come home from vacation, especially when you're returning from a warm location into the dead of winter. Sure enough, my first day back in the office yesterday (Monday was a holiday for the kids but not for me and Amy, so Amy went to work and I worked from home while the kids played with toys and watched TV) was a rude slap in the face after lolling around in sunny St. Thomas.

A big accumulation of snow overnight meant Aaron's school was delayed an hour, so I walked Jada to school and then piggybacked Aaron to my office for a little bit before piggybacking him to school. This is as hard as it sounds, especially with snow making walking at times arduous and at other times slippery. (To add insult to injury, someone had stolen our snow shovel off our front porch while we were away, so I had to clear our sidewalk and Amy's car with a dinky little half-size shovel. Not good times.)

On the return trip, I hiked to Aaron's school and then piggybacked him back down the hill to the bus stop. We lucked into a bus arriving just as we arrived, which is fortunate because we got to Jada's school with only three minutes to spare.

Over dinner, Jada asked me where she could buy a house in St. Thomas to live in when she grows up. Wherever it is, sweetie, make sure there's a room for me.


Dispatches from the US Virgin Islands

We just got back from a whole week in the US Virgin Islands. Believe it or not, it was business first for me – I have a lot of client work there, and so the weekdays were full for me with interviews and field work – but Amy and the kids got to play, and I got to join them in the evenings and the weekend. Hop on over to Huang Kid Khronicles and/or my YouTube page if you want to see some dispatches, some videos, and some pics.


Friday Night Lights Out

It was a Friday night earlier this month, after a long and tiring work week for both Amy and me. The kids had just been put to bed but weren't quite sleepy enough to just be quiet and close their eyes, so they were chattering about. Both Amy and I were up on their floor, Amy trying to pry out a DVD that Aaron had funkily put into the player and that would not either play or eject. I was trying to locate a remote control police car that had been left on and that was therefore making ominous noises in 15-minute increments.

As Amy banged away on the DVD player and I searched in vain for that annoying car, we looked at each other and I said, "Look what Friday night has turned into for us." I smiled. Amy made a face and muttered under her breath at the DVD player. Yup, we live a wild and crazy life.


Canvassing for David Oh

If anyone is interested in joining my kids and I as we meander around the neighborhood later this month collecting signatures for David Oh's candidacy for City Council at Large, please let me know. To officially get on the ballot, you need 1,000 signatures, and you have from mid-February to early March to get them. So I will be receiving a list of people in my neighborhood to visit to get their John Hancock.

Note: David is running as a Republican, so we need signatures from registered Republicans. Since my neighborhood is staunchly Democrat (in the '08 election, Barack Obama got 97 percent of the vote, John McCain 2 percent, and Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate, 1 percent), I'm not exactly sure how many of the hundreds of houses within walking distance of my house will need to be visited. So if you join us, there may be more walking than talking!


What Would Jesus Do When the Alcohol Runs Out

It was my sophomore year in college. I was living in a mostly freshman dorm, leading a Bible discussion group, and wandering through the hallways handing out invites to our first meeting. I knocked on a hallmate's door, heard him holler "come in," and opened the door. I did not catch him "in flagrante," but he was in bed with a young coed who was dabbing his feverish forehead with a wet towel. For all of the times our Christian fellowship practiced different ways to invite our friends to Bible studies, curiously we had not yet covered this scenario. My mind and body froze.

The only thing I could do was blurt out, "Here!" I handed him a little quarter-sheet invite I had prepared as a leave-behind to people I had invited. It was a silhouette of the unmistakable "Absolut" bottle, with the title "Absolut Miracle" and the question, "What would Jesus do if he was at a party that ran out of alcohol?"

The young woman blushed, realizing I was a Christian and thinking I would think ill of her for being draped all over my hallmate. My hallmate was intrigued by the invite, also assuming Christian condemnation: "Well, he would probably squash that party!"

Ice sufficiently broken, I replied, "Well, not to give away the ending, but actually what happens is he makes more alcohol, and it's the best stuff anyone at the party had ever had." With a teaser like that, who could resist our Bible group? Indeed, my hallmate did show up for the first meeting, and actually came from a Christian background so was easily able to follow the story (the wedding at Cana, in the second chapter of the gospel according to John) and participate in the discussion.

Alas, the room was stacked with too many strait-laced Christians for him to feel entirely comfortable, and so that first meeting was also his last meeting. Still, it was nice to see him take a chance on a potentially weirdo Christian gathering and even have fun participating in discussion over a passage in the Bible. And, my lasting impression of this whole story is of a Savior whose first miracle while on earth was to do something so contrary to most college kids' image of Jesus that it piqued enough interest in one young man to go from being intertwined with a young woman in his bed to talking Bible with a bunch of Christians.


Lazy Linking, 37th in An Occasional Series

What I liked lately on the Internets:

37.1. Walmartculler of bad jobs and stimulator of good jobs? [Hat tip: The Enterprise Blog.]

37.2. Did banning DDT cost lives?

37.3. Incentives matter. So why not align your financial ones with your exercise ones? [Hat tip: Greg Mankiw.]

37.4. Jennifer Aniston eyes a $9 million New York City penthouse. If "Friends" were real, Rachel would have been able to afford it, even on a waitress' salary.

37.5. Disney starts the brainwashing early.

37.6. One of the opportunity costs of parenthood? The loss of tidy beds.

37.7. I still haven't gotten a chance to watch the Super Bowl commercials (fast-forwarded through them to get to the game, haven't yet had time to go back and watch the whole tape), but if the Volkswagen ad is any indication, the ads this year are kinder and gentler than last year's.

37.8. All politics is local. Which is why cities still matter.

37.9. You want a comprehensive history lesson? How about a short history of our planet? [Hat tip: kottke.org.]

37.10. Let's see: he grew up in the Bay Area, went to an Ivy League school, plays for the Golden State Warriors, keeps a godly perspective amidst the challenge of the NBA lifestyle, aims to start a Christian-based non-profit to help inner-city kids, and wants to be a pastor when his playing days are over. Yeah, I'd say Jeremy Lin is pretty alright in my book.


Huang Boys Kill Time

Yesterday, Jada went to a drop-off birthday party at World Cafe Live. While she reveled in live music and good friends, Aaron and I killed time nearby.

We walked a couple of blocks to 30th Street Station, grabbed Angus burgers at Mickey D's, and headed through the train station to the lobby of the Cira Centre, where we pounded lunch, enjoyed the views of the Center City skyline, and talked guy stuff. Then, I set up our portable DVD player and Aaron vegged out to taped Sesame Street episodes while I caught up on phone calls and checked email. Just as Aaron was starting to get bored, it was time to head back to World Cafe Live, pick up Jada, and take the bus home.

Not a bad father-son time. And, with Jada's circle of friends growing by the day, methinks there will be many other such opportunities to kill time with the boy in the future.


American United

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted a really great question, which I am reproducing here along with my off-the-cuff response:

Will there ever be an unified american culture? A culture where everyone feels equally american, and of a unified culture in this (our) country? Thoughts?

My response:

1. Our country is not THAT old, so the mythology of the frontier, of fighting a revolution, and of establishing "a more perfect union" is still hard-wired into most Americans' sense of being American. ("American Beliefs," by John Harmon McElroy, is a good read on this notion.)

2. Our past and present has far more diversity, and the attendant results (positive things like unity in diversity, negative things like racism and injustice) than any other nation in history. So I think that is defining, although sadly far too many of us are ignorant of large swaths of people groups and of past atrocities, so this awareness is probably far less universal than it should be.

3. Because we are so diverse and distinct in so many ways (race/ethnicity, geography, personal tastes), the things that are universally American tend to be things that cause us to forget our differences and band together as Americans against something else. Think WWII, 9/11, the Olympics. (Re: WWII, I commend to you "Double Victory," by Ronald Takaki, which tells of different Asian-American groups' contribution to the war and how fighting in it made them identify more as Americans.)

4. I got the sense that Obama's call for this generation's "Sputnik" moment was lukewarmly received. So I'm not sure we can summon up a unified goal we can all get behind (although, at a local level, there may things people can rally around, which breaks down walls between groups).

5. Lastly, your question asks whether all Americans will ever feel truly equally American. Alas, I am pessimistic about this. Because of how strongly the feelings are concerning the three points above, it seems innate that people will be ever competing to be "more American," sometimes putting down others as "less American" as a way of doing that. Consider politicians and groups arguing that they know what "the founding fathers" would have wanted. Even though there was a halo after 9/11, our most recent galvanizing moment, it quickly went away. Perhaps, at a grassroots level, we can build pockets of humility and decency, and at the end of the day that's something we can all do and so we should commit to doing it.

Thanks for kicking off such a stimulating conversation on such a stimulating issue.


Thanks, Harrisburg: I Had a Capital Time

It is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy due to a colossally bad incinerator project. A colleague of mine who once lived there for a summer in her mid-twenties couldn't wait for said summer to end, because the place was so dead. And yet, every time I go to Harrisburg I say to myself, "This place has potential." Yesterday was no different. In fact, it was worthy of a running diary:

8:00a - Amy helps me out big-time by offering to take Aaron to school. I send her, him, and his bike helmet off, walk Jada to school, and then pedal in the frigid morning air to the train station. I lock up my bike and bike helmet, head inside to thaw, and blast through a big stack of reading while waiting for my train.

9:00a - I board, plug in my laptop, and proceed to power feverishly through a load of work. The rattling of the train temporarily derails my ability to use my mouse, and reminds me why I prefer to curl up with a magazine on these rides. But I'm super jammed so I have to be productive during this hour and 40 minutes.

10:40a - I finish my scheduled chunk of work just as we pull into Harrisburg. I walk briskly to the State Museum of Pennsylvania, pay my admission, and scan the museum map. Four floors and one hour means 15 minutes per floor. I'm going to have to walk and read fast.

12:00p - That was highly enjoyable. I make note to bring the kids here when they're older, what with all the dinosaur stuff and general cool things to look at, including a huge William Penn statue in the middle of the museum. I walk across the street to Roxy's to have lunch with two colleagues of mine who work for the Commonwealth. I order a cheeseburger sub on a 10-inch roll; the waitress brings out a cheeseburger on a regular bun, saying they're out of 10-inch rolls. Given that they have a whole section of their menu called "sandwiches on a 10-inch roll," I find this odd. No matter: this is the third time I've been, and the food's been good and the people nice each time, so I'll let this slide.

1:00p - My reason for coming to Harrisburg was to meet with a client. They are within feet of Roxy's. I arrive, breath smelling of onions and potato chips, and we proceed to have a pleasant, stimulating discussion about a report we are working on for them.

3:10p - I must excuse myself so as not to miss my train. I make it with a couple of minutes to spare. I call my father-in-law, who offered to be my second back-up for kid pick-up if I was stuck in Harrisburg and Amy couldn't get out of work, to tell him I'm on track. Then I settle in to a second big chunk of work.

5:00p - I finish with minutes to spare, step off the train, and head into the chilly evening air to pick up Aaron and then Jada. We are home, jackets off and eating dinner by 6. Amy arrives minutes later and we reunite in the foyer, Jada wrapping her leg around Amy and Aaron giving Amy a playful spank on the butt. It's these little moments that make family life great, and I'm glad business in Harrisburg doesn't preclude me being home for them.

Pray for the Boy

Announcing a new approach to Aaron's orneriness: prayer. Not that we haven't prayed for the boy before, but Amy has decided that when Aaron starts acting up, that's our cue to pray. I joked to her at first that, if anything, we'll be getting a lot of prayer in, but Amy shot me a look back as if to say, "I'm serious."

I failed my first test on this. Aaron went from cheery little schoolboy to grumpy curmudgeon as soon as I arrived earlier this week to pick him up from school. A little girl was attempting to sweep the floor but only succeeding in lurching the broom handle dangerously close to Aaron's face, so I jerked him away from danger, which only made him more upset at me. It had been a long day for me so I did not respond to his silent and mopey protest very well, pleading with him in a loud voice to put his hat and gloves on.

It must have been quite a scene once we hit the road: guy with ski mask and trench coat pedaling madly down the street, little boy spitting out angry words like "you hurt me" and "I'm going tell my mom on you." At one point, I stopped at an intersection and turned around to spank him on his hand, but instead I lost balance and Aaron's center of gravity tilted the bike to the point of no return, such that I could only gently lay it sideways on the street. Three passersby came to help me get upright again, and I can only hope they only saw us fall and not what caused us to fall.

When we arrived at Jada's, he was still hot at me. I asked him to stay to the right as we climbed the stairs, so that we wouldn't be in the way of people descending. He refused angrily, and took umbrage as I corralled him to the right anyway. By the time we got home, he was a crying heap, and it seemed everything I was doing was only pouring gasoline on his fire.

In short, I had several opportunities to put Amy's exhortation into action and pray for the boy, but I was too wound up from a hard day at work and a constantly belligerent son. I think God likes when we pray in the moment, and I missed the moment. But I think God also likes when we accept that we can't press rewind but we can at least pray when we have the chance. So here I am now, praying for the boy, hoping God will soften him and help him to trust that my instruction is for his good and my love for him is genuine.


Books, and Then More Books

You know we're not the type to turn down a free event, especially one focused on literacy. So, despite a driving rain and the pull to luxuriate at home, I made plans last Saturday to hit the African-American Book Fair at Community College of Philadelphia. Aaron whined about wanting to stay home, and Amy had mercy on him and granted his wish. So this was a father-daughter production, which was good, because it was fraught almost from the beginning, and Aaron being with us would have almost certainly led to a meltdown on his part and homicidal thoughts on my part:

1:00p - We slip and slide our way to the subway station and then wait a little longer than we should have for the El. When it arrives, it's packed to the gills. There must have been a delay. We cram our way in, transfer at City Hall, and board the Broad Street Line. At Race-Vine, it is announced that Spring Garden is closed due to renovations. I grab Jada and dart out of the train and resign myself to a seven-block walk instead of a three-block walk.

1:30p - After some difficulty, we find the building the fair is located in. We then proceed to wait almost a half-hour to get in. The place is full and then some. While this is undoubtedly a good omen for the future literacy levels of our city's children, it puts a damper on our enthusiasm.

2:00p - The lines continue once we're inside. Lines to get free posters, lines to see authors, even lines to buy and pay for books. The place is buzzing, the sound system is booming, and I am starting to wilt. We're not there long before I hatch a plan to bring Jada to Barnes & Noble, since it is close to where we plan to pick up the bus home. Maybe I might even splurge for a book or two there. Ah, who am I kidding: even for the sake of my kids' education, I am reluctant to spend a dime.

2:30p - Serendipity: as we come down the hill south on 18th Street, I realize we are just a block from the main branch of the Free Library. Emphasis on "free." We head there, make a beeline for the children's section, and Jada revels in books stacked to the ceiling, first choosing three to read on site and then three other ones to check out.

3:00p - Now it's my turn. I spent a lot of time at the library when I was a kid, and 90 percent of what I did was read baseball books. I see no reason not to relive some of my childhood, so I drag Jada to the sports section, plop her down at a nearby table to look at her books, and luxuriate in title after title from familiar names like Roger Angell and Bill James and Roger Kahn. A homeless man dozes nearby, and I hold my breath hoping Jada doesn't ask the obvious question: "Why does it smell bad here?"

3:30p - Checkout is surprisingly difficult, but soon enough we are on our way down the hill and into Center City. We grab the 42 bus home, Jada delighting in her books the whole way home.

4:00p - Wet clothes shed and new books stacked on the coffee table, Jada and I sink into opposite ends of the sofa, noses buried between pages, while Aaron watches TV upstairs and Amy makes dinner. Now this is a Saturday afternoon.


Black Men Stepping Up

It's what every teacher hopes for, is that the students he pours his heart and soul into turn out right, and end up being positive influences on other, younger kids. And, here and there, I've been fortunate to hear from former youth entrepreneurship program participants and about good stuff they're up to. Much has been made of the negative impact on children of the absence of father figures, particularly in the black community, so it's particularly heartening when I hear about ways my former students are being good role models, through their own life example and through mentoring relationships.

And I was heartened by the good deed Philadelphia Eagles star wide receiver Desean Jackson did, in making a beeline from his flight from Honolulu and the NFL Pro Bowl to the studios of "The View," to encourage a young fan who has been in the news for the awful treatment he received from bullies. D-Jax is known by most as a diva of sorts: angling for a big contract, posting "bulletin board" material on his Twitter page, or doing "the Nestea plunge" into the end zone. But it appears he understands that with his fame and popularity, especially among young African-American boys, there comes a responsibility to be a good role model and to encourage positive behavior when he can.

It's easy to bash pro athletes, given their riches and attitudes. But it is a grueling lifestyle: year-round physical conditioning, a punishing game and travel schedule, and so many competing demands on your time. Desean Jackson deserves some credit for realizing the importance of this small gesture on his part, to be there and sit with this young fan. And former students of mine who are doing good stuff and trying to be a positive influence on the next generation also deserve some credit, for realizing that they have the opportunity to do good as well, and for taking those opportunities and doing the most good with them.

I Admit It: I Watched "The View" and Cried

Nice story about Philadelphia Eagles star wide receiver Desean Jackson paying a surprise visit to the kid from the Philly area whose being bullied was caught on video and who was invited to "The View" to talk about the incident. It was all quite touching, on so many levels: this poor 13-year-old being lauded for his courage, Jackson's earnest affirmation and his literally giving the teen the shirt off his back, and the kid and his mom tearing up over the whole thing.

I could not help but think of how fragile I was at 13, or to wonder about my own son at that age, maturing physically but still in many ways just a little boy. I understand that there is a certain "code of the streets" in effect, but what happened to Nadin Khoury should not have to happen to anyone. Glad for his sake and for all 13-year-old boys' sake that he stood up and said something, and glad for Jackson and the others rallying around him for that.


Lazy Linking, 36th in an Occasional Series

What I liked lately on the Internets:

36.1. Poking fun at bad weather while luxuriating in good weather - you call it clever, I call it annoying.

36.2. Why more high-speed rail in China may lead to more traffic. [Hat tip: Marginal Revolution.]

36.3. Going green is for all colors.

36.4. Let John Edwards' extreme self-deception be a cautionary tale for our trust in politicians and our assessment of ourselves.

36.5. Normally I don't get huffy over edgy humor, but Kenneth Cole making fun of the tumult in Egypt is over the line. The blogosphere, which is even snarkier, punishes with cruel efficiency in response.

36.6. Spousonomics salutes Katy Perry for "keeping it hot" in her marriage, and so do I.

36.7. A nice post over at Discovering Urbanism on Michael Sandel on public spaces. In an auto-centric world, the Good Samaritan wouldn't have had the opportunity to help the man in need because he would've whizzed by him at 35 miles an hour.

36.8. Liu Bolin is awesome. Now if I could just find him to tell him that.

36.9. What John Piper felt and prayed when he saw the first printed copy of his best-seller, "Desiring God." Twenty-five years later, Pastor Piper, I can say that God answered your prayers.

36.10. Tetris' Russian roots. The article also notes that playing Tetris can enhance brain function, which may explain why I got such good grades in college.


At the Intersection

Here was a little moment last week that typified the headaches all this snow has caused travelers. As I was coming down the hill on 36th Street between Lancaster and Market, I noticed four trolleys stacked up, with a growing line of cars behind them. Apparently, a SEPTA truck was blocking the way, and since trolleys run on fixed lines, none of them could advance. Deliciously, Philadelphia Parking Authority, star of the reality TV show, "Parking Wars," was writing up the truck.

Perpendicular to this, on a small side street, another line was forming, this time behind a poor woman spinning her wheels in the mushy snow. I approached her, made a two-handed shoving gesture, and then got behind her car and pushed her on her way. She rolled down her window and, in a relieved voice, said thanks, and I tapped the back of her car as she proceeded and said, "You stay safe out there."

Maybe it was the snow quieting everything, but even in the craziness of the morning rush, I didn't hear any honking and I detected a general sense of patience. I guess it's hard to have squabbles between people when the weather has ganged up on us and we have to band together to survive it.

(By the way, the photo above is not from that day, but from two days later, when three trolleys were stacked up going in the other direction. It was too cold and sleety to pull out my camera on the day of to commemorate the moment, so I decided to snap this photo two days later instead.)

Adventures in Commuting

According to the Texas Transportation Institute's 2010 Urban Mobility Index, the average American is delayed 34 hours a year by congestion. It appears that around these parts, half of that took place this past week: I was adversely affected by traffic, and I didn't even step foot in a car. Here are my adventures in commuting from the past week:

Monday - Easy. Too much snow on the ground to contemplate biking, so I took the kids by foot and bus to their schools, and Amy helped by picking up Aaron, which meant I could just walk home and grab Jada on the way. Taking the bus is much easier in the morning than the evening. See below.

Tuesday - Ugh. I thought I left work early enough to walk to Aaron's school, piggyback him to the bus stop, and take the bus to Jada's school before it closed at 6. When we arrived at the bus stop at 5:35, I was a little nervous. There's two lines that come every 10 minutes, so you'd think the average wait would be five minutes. But during rush hour, paradoxically, the wait is longer, because the buses stop at every stop and also because they are full and so sometimes zoom by and make you get the next one. Sure enough, we wait 10 minutes, and then the 21 zooms by. In another three minutes, the two 42's arrive and the second one stops for us. It is now 5:48, so we have 12 minutes to go a mile, get off, and walk 50 feet and up a flight of stairs before we are officially late. The bus ride takes 15 minutes.

Wednesday - Screw the bus, I'm taking matters into my own hands and using the trusty bicycle. I am helped, strangely enough, by the school delays. Leaving two hours later means I miss the morning rush hour, which allows me to ride in the street instead of the bike lane, of which most is iced or snowed over. Coming home is dicier, as I have to basically wait until all the cars go, and then I can ride on the street after them.

Thursday - The waiting is worse today because the traffic is worse. Normally, in stop and go, I zip through on the bike lane. But because most lanes are blocked, I have to wait like everyone else. Again, we are late in picking up Jada.

Friday - Mercifully, traffic is a little better, and even the weather has cooperated, as some of the snow has melted so a little bit more bike lane space is available.

Who knows what the weeks to come will bring. If you recall, the big snow volume last year was in February. So we've got a long way until commuting doesn't require checking for school closings or not knowing whether biking is possible.


Mr. President: Mr. Woodson and His Associates Are Here to See You

This whole "making NFL playoff picks" thing has been fun, but the two-week gap between the conference championships and the Super Bowl has thrown off my rhythm. The Philadelphia sports pages are dominated with the Eagles' off-season moves, the Phillies reporting to spring training, and the Flyers and Sixers jockeying for playoff position. I've been too busy to get a read on who feels good and who's still injured, and even if I had the time, I'm not sure I want to wade into the circus that is media coverage of a game that has a two-week lead-in. (Questions like "Ben, what did you have for breakfast," I'm just not holding my breath waiting for the answer.)

Add to the fact that it's the Super Bowl, which means anything can happen, and you really got me as to what is going to happen. Defensive struggle? Shootout? Is it experience or the hot hand? Who steps up and who chokes? You got me.

Still, over the course of these playoffs, I went exactly 5-5. So I have to make a pick, if only to break the tie. So here goes: Packers 35, Steelers 27. Some random thoughts:

* I was actually surprised when the line came out and the Packers were favored. All along, the look-ahead bet was AFC giving four against NFC. I guess that was assuming the Patriots were the AFC representative?

* Still, I think, after some early-in-the-game jitters, Aaron Rodgers picks up where he left off three weeks ago in Atlanta, and just starts throwing seeds all over the place. I think there's going to be a fair amount of big plays and not a whole lot of field goal or even red zone situations.

* On the other side of the ball, I think this is where the Ben Roethlisberger show finally comes to an end. Not that 27 points is a bad day at the office against a championship-caliber defense. But there's too much pass rush and too much athleticism in the secondary to keep up with.

* The Steelers will actually have a shot at the end for the tie with a TD and 2-point conversion, but a pick by Charles Woodson will cement the win for the Pack. President Obama, Mr. Woodson and his associates will in fact see you in the White House, and he will deliver said picked ball to you with his signature on it and a note: "You can come watch us play in Green Bay any time you want, Mr. President."


A Year in Time

With my subscription of The Economist due to expire next month, and some frequent flier miles also due to expire soon, I decided to change things up a bit - I've been subscribing to The Economist for a few years straight now - and let that subscription lapse and pick up Time Magazine instead. As much as I will miss all I love about The Economist, I figured it would be good to get a different perspective for a year. Besides, I have fond memories of reading Time at my aunt's house, and always found it the more serious of the Time/Newsweek/USNews triumvirate.

Uh, times have changed. I saw a recent copy of Time at my office so I flipped through it during lunch. It is, how shall I put this? My wife described it as "People Magazine for news." Co-sign: more pictures than words, and the words are in very small doses. Some are even yellow-highlighted! And don't get me started on the distribution of coverage.

My wife said I should just get The Economist in parallel, lest I die of information starvation. But I protested that my brain only has room for one news magazine. For the next year or so, it will be Time. Let's hope there's more sustenance in future issues than there was in the issue I looked at earlier this week.


Still Blogging

Exactly eight years ago today was my first ever blog post in this space. I had no idea where blogging would take me back then, I just wanted a convenient place to dump my musings, on faith and family and cities and churches and economics and environment.

Eight years later, it’s still a work in progress, as am I. It’s been fun to muse, and even more fun when others chime in with their musings. Who knows what the next eight years will bring, but let's hope there's still benefit to me and others from musing on these kinds of topics. Thanks for your eyeballs and your thoughts.


Huang Family Newsletter, January 2011

We four had a great time in San Jose, seeing my mom and dad, hanging out with my sister and brother-in-law, and seeing so many fun California sights that Jada insists that we move there someday. Upon our return, between being sick, it being cold, and inertia setting in, we laid low for most of our weekends; weekdays this month were busy enough to justify this, between our hectic jobs and the kids' long school days. We did get to celebrate Aaron's fourth birthday with friends and family, Aaron landing all sorts of good loot, including Legos, dinosaurs, and cars, the holy trinity of toys for boys.

Presentation on the Economic Value of Protected Open Space

I will not be able to attend this, due to a prior commitment, but I pass this on to you should you be interested in hearing more about the study we did for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and Greenspace Alliance on the economic value of protected open space in the Philadelphia five-county region.


The GreenSpace Alliance and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission are pleased to invite you to hear a presentation of the study Return on Environment: The Economic Value of Protected Open Space in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Date: Friday, February 4, 2011
Time: 9:00 a.m.
Location: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 100 N. 20th Street 5th Floor

The presentation summarizes the findings of the first study to quantify the economic value of protected open space in the five-county area. The study shows that preserved open spaces are more than just pretty places, they contribute hundreds of millions to our local economies and property values, help us save on everything from health care to recreation, and they perform valuable ecosystem services that naturally improve the air we breathe and the water we drink. The PowerPoint presentation is designed to make the study findings accessible to a broad audience. We hope you will join us.

The complete study First Edition is available for download at www.greenspacealliance.org/home/whatsnew.asp and www.dvrpc.org/openspace/value/. The Final Edition will include a new stormwater case study by the US Forest Service as well as the appendices and will be available at www.greenspacealliance.org and www.dvrpc.org/openspace/value/ the week of February 1.

Also note that we have a presentation/training scheduled for stakeholders who would like to give the PowerPoint. We will share presentation tips and discuss effective answers to address common questions we have heard. This meeting will be held February 16th, at 9:00 a.m. at DVRPC, 190 N. Independence Mall West, (6th and Race), Philadelphia, PA 19106, 8th Floor. Another reminder for this meeting will be sent out in early February.