Archive for November, 2010

I just got a press release from my alma mater, the University of Texas at Dallas, suggesting a story about buying low-tech toys for kids. It says:

Although high-tech toys are popular – and oftentimes expensive – they don’t always provide the interaction necessary for children to learn communication and social skills.

“These toys can sometimes be overwhelming for children and only appropriate for solitary play,” said Suzanne Bonifert, who heads the speech-language pathology program at UT Dallas’ Callier Center for Communication Disorders.

The release goes on to recommend a few toys; my favorite suggestion is Mr. Potato Head as a way of teaching kids about body parts. (Hmm, has anyone ever made an anatomically correct Mr. Potato Head? But I digress….)

Courtesy of the Strong, Rochester, New York.

Anyway, that got me thinking about one of the coolest places I visited this past year, the fabulous National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. Everything about this place is fun and forward thinking and exciting—from quotes about play displayed throughout the museum (It is a happy talent to know how to play–Ralph Waldo Emerson and Deep meaning often lies in childish play–Johann Friedrich von Schiller); to the replica of Sesame Street, where kids can interview Elmo on closed-circuit TV; to the superheroes exhibit where you can develop your own “superpowers”; to the giant, walk-though pop-up book; to the real books placed all over the museum and available to be checked out through the local library system.

Courtesy of the Strong, Rochester, New York.

My favorite part of the museum, though, is the Toy Hall of Fame, because I don’t know from newfangled computer toys and prefer reminiscing over The Game of Life (inducted this year), the Easy-Bake Oven (2006), and Lincoln Logs (1999). I particularly love that the definition of “toys” is broad here, so they also include the lowest tech of toys. A Cardboard Box (2006). A Stick (2008).

Of course, you can’t stay old school forever. Nintendo Game Boy (2009) and the Atari 2600 Game System (2007) are also in there. And the museum recently opened eGames Revolution, a hands-on exhibit tracing the history of video games.

Recent research indicates that experiences and memories bring more happiness than things. So maybe this year, you should skip the Wii, buy your kids a Mr. Potato Head and spend the rest of your gift budget on a trip to Rochester.


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A view of the window from where Oswald did or did not act alone. Photo by Stephen Hanafin via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Every year on this day, Dallas, Texas (my hometown) suffers a huge, communal pang of guilt. No matter how many years pass and how much Dallas changes and grows, most people know it for two things: J.R. Ewing and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 47 years ago today. (Oh, and DFW airport. I can’t count how many people have said to me, “I’ve never been to Dallas, but I have been in your airport.”)

The city has never had any official commemorations of the assassination, except for the dedication of Dealy Plaza as a National Historic Landmark in 1993. Actually, on the 20th anniversary of the assassination, the Kennedy family specifically requested no official commemoration, preferring to celebrate JFK’s life.

But every year on this date, tourists and conspiracy cranks gather at Dealy Plaza anyway. And actually, it’s a rare day when you don’t see tourists milling around Dealy Plaza, pointing at the Book Depository, peering at the ground, presumably trying to solve the mystery themselves.

The Book Depository building houses the very excellent Sixth Floor Museum, which both celebrates Kennedy’s life and examines his death. I promise you, there is absolutely nothing schlocky about this museum. It is respectful, interesting, and moving.

But now, as the 50th anniversary of the assassination approaches, the museum is having to rethink its no-commemoration policy. “…we have to realize that on the 50th anniversary, we will be micro-analyzed by people around the world, and there’s nothing we can do about that,” museum executive director Nicola Longford told the Dallas Morning News. “We might as well figure out how we are going to deal with it.”

Officials are also taking the occasion to rethink the museum’s exhibits, because as the event recedes into history, they must cater less to people who remember where they were when Kennedy was shot (baby boomers’ parlor game, along with “what was your first concert?”), than to people who know about it only from history books.

I thought today’s article in the DMN was an interesting peek into the issues historians and curators deal with. (I am puzzled to read that young people are not interested in the political climate at the time. Really?)

Oh, and I was a young child in New York City, watching As the World Turns with my housekeeper/surrogate grandma, Esther Pressy when Walter Cronkite broke in and broke the news. And I was bummed when all my favorite cartoons were pre-empted by the funeral. The family story is, I turned to my father and said, “Is President Kennedy still dead?”

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Which deck to sit on first? Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

Yet another vacation property dream: Wouldn’t it be swell to spend a week or a lifetime in this house in Gulf Shores, Alabama?

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I always liked to travel.

Airplanes flying overhead. Friends detailing their latest went here, did that adventures. Photos of icebergs or, maybe, beaches or, of course, barbecue shacks.

They’re travel tripwires. See or hear one and the desire to drive or fly off takes over. But planes, stories, and photos are the easy travel cues. The momentary ones. The noise of the plane comes and goes and the day just keeps on going.

The trickier ones to shrug off, the ones that can make the rest of a regular day nearly intolerable are those that were sewn into our DNA during our early travel experiences. We don’t get to choose them.

Mine? Highway rest areas.

It snagged me again on Monday afternoon and, as of Tuesday night, had yet to let go. Since my family lived in North Jersey and, frequently, went down the shore or on driving trips with family friends, rest areas along I-95 were an important part of my childhood travels. I enjoyed the randomness of them. That moment when my family was there? Barring some really strange realigning of the stars, it was the only time that everybody who was at the rest area right then would ever be together again. Where were they all going?

And I loved buying the biorhythm or horoscope scrolls sold out of machines by the front door.

So, Monday, driving back from a meeting in central Jersey, I just needed to stop for a moment. I had some coffee left in my travel mug and I wasn’t quite ready to return home and get back to the must-dos. I pulled off of I-95 into the Joyce Kilmer Service Area and sat on a picnic table bench outside. I stayed for a while, sipping the coffee. The meeting slipped away. The desire to go away came on strong.

When I finally got back in the car to head home, it took some inner strength to keep myself from pulling into the long-term parking at Newark and just buying a ticket for whichever plane was leaving next.

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Are you as hooked on/horrified by the TV show Hoarders as I am? It’s a terrible accident you can’t look away from, a shameful, voyeuristic excursion into troubled lives.

Still, it allows most of us to feel pretty good about ourselves, since no matter how much crap we have, chances are we’re in better shape than that. So we can still buy more crap if we want, without TV cameras showing up and exposing us to people like me.

How’s that for an intro to a post on antiquing?

I’m not a big shopper. I prefer experiences to stuff and, after reviewing my late parents’ lifetime of accumulation, I’m more convinced than ever that I don’t want to leave behind what I can’t take with me.

But boy, do I love antique malls.

I recently visited Gladewater, Texas, the self-proclaimed “antique capital of East Texas.” This nifty little town on the Texas & Pacific Railroad—trains still lumber through the center of town—was an oil boomtown in the 1930s. Today, its main street is lined with antique shops and malls. It made me hyperventilate.

Here’s how I reconcile my love for antiquing with my fear of too much stuff: Quests. I decide in advance what I’m looking for and focus. I’ll fondle everything but limit my buying to the Quest Du Jour. These days, the only thing I’m collecting is 1960s wall plaques of a certain style. They’re not easy to find, so I can safely shop for hours—days, even—without over-acquiring.

That kind of worked in Gladewater, except for the crazy beer glass I bought for my husband (just $3, who could resist?), and an impulse buy of a dozen 45s with cool labels (paid more than I intended). I thought maybe they’d make a nifty decorative touch to something somewhere. Oopsy doodle. Broke my own rule.

But as long as I’m not a hoarder.

And my impulse buy is nothing compared to some. Heidi Chapman, who owns the swell Cloverleaf Boutique in Ardmore, Oklahoma, made the mother of all impulse buys one year at the massive, twice-yearly Round Top Antiques Fair in Texas: See that giant ice-cream cone outside her shop…?

“I had not driven my big box truck, which I usually take, because I wasn’t going to buy anything big,” Heidi told me. “But I saw it within a few minutes and said, ‘I have to have that.’ ”

Oh well, rules are made to be broken, eh? And it was a really cool glass. The 45s—well, regrets, I have a few.

(It’s not too soon to start planning a trip to the January 2011 Round Top Antiques Fair. Here are some tips from Heidi for shopping Round Top, which she never misses.  Maybe you can find a giant ice cream cone to call your own.)

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