Best Kids Books 2015

My daughters are 6 and 4. I read to them every night, and since I get bored easily I'm always looking for something new. So each year we end up reading a ton of books. These were our favorites in 2015. You should read these books to your kids immediately. If you don't have any kids, read them to someone else's. But don't accost a stranger's kids on the street! I mean like a niece or nephew or something. Common sense, people.

1. Fables

The fables in this book are almost like koans. They're not as moralistic and straightforward as in Aesop's Fables. Some of them left me scratching my head. All's well that ends with a good meal ???

Love the whimsical illustrations

Arnold Lobel is one of the greats.

2. Mr. Wuffles

If you've ever wondered why your cat ignores all the nice squeaky toys you give it and you always wonder why the cat is stalking around mysteriously after some invisible prey... answers within.

I like how terrifying the cat looks in this book, from the littler creatures' point of view. It's true! If you were tiny, a house cat would be very frightening.

3. President Taft is Stuck in the Bath

Funny cos it's true

4. The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna

Beautiful illustrations. Each page is a filagreed painting. I found myself transfixed by the imagery. The kids were rapt as well.

The wicked King Kamsa of Mathura has got to up his game, though. Every time he tries to think of a way to kill Krishna he comes up with the same thing! How many snake demons can you send before you realize, snake demons are not the right approach here?

Self-link (this still makes me laugh): The many faces of Krishna

5. Take Me Out to the Yakyu

This book implies that Japan is superior technologically to the US. The American dad wears a crap analog watch whereas the Japanese "ji-ji" has a state of the art digital (and also his tickets are on his cellphone, and also they ride to the game in a bus that becomes a train!)

Also Japan has better ballgame food

But the Americans live in a bigger house and they get foamy fingers that say we're #1

America: WE'RE #1 (in foamy fingers)

6. Would You Rather...

This book features Burningham's trademark light-hearted whimsical funny-but-you-can't-put-your-finger-on-why-exactly drawing style. It is a series of dilemmas such as, would you rather be made to:

a) eat SPIDER stew
b) taste SLUG dumplings
c) chew mashed WORMS
d) or drink a SNAIL shake

One of my favorite parts was "would you rather a hippo sleep in your bed? OR an eagle eats your dinner? OR a pig tries on all your clothes? OR an elephant drinks all your bath water?" We'd just come from the zoo, where we'd seen an enormous lazy hippo floating in the water. So the outrageous situation of a hippo sleeping in one's bed was chillingly easy to imagine. It would really be annoying! I think my kids would pick "eagle eats your dinner" cos yay, then they don't have to eat.

7. John Patrick Norman McHennessy: The Boy Who Was Always Late

Is John Patrick Norman McHennessy a big fat liar? Did a lion really tear away his satchel? Did a flood really ruin his clothes? Did his teacher really get snatched by an extremely large gorilla? So many questions. Very funny illustrations. I like when a kids book has an unreliable narrator.

Someday I'll make a list of 'ridiculous drawings of lions in children's books'. The lion from J.P.N.M.:T.B.W.W.A.L. will be in there.

8. But Excuse Me That Is My Book

I found this book very funny and as an avid bookworm/library user the story was right up my alley . Lauren Child has a way with dialogue. Lola (the younger sister) sounds breathless and verbose in a way that will be familiar to anyone with a kid of this disposition. Also, I like her illustrative style a lot, esp. the wobbly eyes and scribbly lines.

9. The Story of Little Babaji

The story is a crock of racist stereotypes-- the book was originally called The Story of Little Black Sambo, for Christ's sake-- but I cracked up at Fred Marcellino's illustrations. Very amusing. Each tiger robs Lil' Babaji of one item of clothing, then proclaims himself the grandest tiger of them all. They all look so pleased with themselves! Asha really liked this book and demanded it be read several times.

10. Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse, and Was Eaten by a Lion

Does what it says on the tin. Kids young and older will be entertained and hopefully SCARED STRAIGHT

suggestion: replace "nurse" with "nanny" if you live in the U.S. in modern times

11. Grandfather's Journey

This book tells an interesting story. I liked the depiction of Grandfather's journey to California, and return to Japan. Really lovely watercolor illustrations. The girls and I enjoyed this.

12. Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat

This bear is a total jerk!

Resolutions 2015: Report Card

original list, 1/17/15

Wispy self-improvement: C

1. Be presentB
2. Cleaner living (less drinking etc)D
3. Cook moreC-
4. Teach kids (Izzy at least) to swim and ride a bikeB

Divorce: B

1. Sell the house, find a new place to liveA
3. Get through itB

Climbing: A+

1. Go roped climbing outsideA+
2. Go bouldering outsideA
3. Get more v3s and at least one v4A+
4. Get permanent belay cardA
5. Climb at all the touchstone gyms (east bay included)A

Stretch goals: F

1. Make a snowmanF
2. Take a bike repair classF

The times when I felt most present were when I was running stoned through mountains, forests or along the ocean shore. I started doing yoga again and realized that focusing on your breath is a good all-purpose technique for bringing yourself into the moment, whatever you're doing. (This isn't a revelation to the world at large but it's been very helpful for me personally to stop and focus on my breathing when climbing, running or just sitting). It was a continual struggle, and I failed more often than I tried, but I definitely tried. My mantra was "be here now"


2015 Trail Runs

When I think back to this period of funemployment it will be a lot of depressing and stressful memories, but also some joyous ones. Some of the best moments were trail runs I took in the day. These runs let me explore SF and surrounds without the madding crowds. I really feel like I got to know the area and get in touch w/ nature. And push my physical limits. I have big calf muscles for the first time ever!

Here are some of my favorite memories.

1. Seeing the whales, Mussel Rock State Park

Man it was such a beautiful day, hard to describe in words. The sun was out and the air was clear and it felt like you could see a million miles in every direction. The ocean glimmered and as I stood on the cliffs overlooking the beach I felt like I could take it all in with a single glance. Then I saw whales spouting. I thought at first it was a trick of my eye.

But using Andy's "pay attention to the periphery" philosophy I scanned back and forth until I saw them again. The ocean was vast but I could see it all and sure enough in the distance on my left I saw whales!! They did a bunch of behaviors documented on Wikipedia. Preening, blow-holing, ... prancing...

2. The moment when it was raining in the damp green forest and I was parched, and I sat stoned watching the mist everywhere and eventually stood up and tried to catch dripping drops from the redwood branches high above in my mouth. It was hard. The drops came down with surprising force. The forest was so vivid and beautiful in that moment and it was just me alone experiencing it

3. Falling out of a tree, stoned (Mt Tam?)

Don't climb trees stoned. Or do, I'm not your mother

4. Seeing all the animals of the trails. A hawk tracing circles in the sky. Scary antelope w/ big horns. Unsettlingly unskittish deer. A fox. Something else I forget what.

5. Looking down at the clouds, Montara North Peak

6. Land's End / Batteries to Bluffs / it's all a blur

7. Running cross GG and back, at a good clip! I seriously got to know GG park. Have you been to the:

  1. archery range
  2. golf course
  3. home where the buffalo range
  4. various lakes (I think at least 3?)
  5. botanical garden
  6. polo field
  7. fly fishing pond
  8. waterfall

Also got caught in Hardly Strictly Bluegrass which you'd think would be awesome but I hate the madding crowds. Maddening crowds?

8. Exploring Presidio in 2 parts. Lover's Lane is not all that. Presidio is not a park proper. I hate golf courses which on Google Maps look exactly the same as national parks

9. Various Redwood Gulches. Open spaces they're all a blur

10. too many hills. why do i always find myself climbing stairs. while cursing. i always curse.

11. running too fast downhill (you can go so fast if you're willing to risk injury)

12. mastering glen park

13. exploring graffiti in bayview park.

14. finally exploring the monument near candlestick park. the 13 (?) mile walk w/ raph was super fun.

15. interior green belt, mt davidson, sutro preserve, twin peaks. sf hill bagging

16. mastering philosopher's way (including a 3k date!)

17. fear at mt. diablo and driving home on 0 gas

18. running a mile on the track 6:22 ish?

19. open mic comedy in the woods

20. echoing shots from the shooting range at chabot.

21. trail running w/ the kids

22. mt davidson - note that google maps is useless for running. i frequently would be in an unmarked green space on the map with no trails listed on the screen, when clearly i was on a trail. they just don't do orienteering. it would be cool to have a version w/ walking running paths. IS THERE AN APP FOR THAT.

wide open spaces

Resolutions 2015

Wispy self-improvement

  1. Be present
  2. Cleaner living (less drinking etc)
  3. Cook more
  4. Teach kids (Izzy at least) to swim and ride a bike


  1. Sell the house, find a new place to live
  3. Get through it


  1. Go roped climbing outside
  2. Go bouldering outside
  3. Get more v3s and at least one v4
  4. Get permanent belay card
  5. Climb at all the touchstone gyms (east bay included)

Stretch goals

  1. Make a snowman
  2. Take a bike repair class

note: henceforth, i'm a try and come back to lists on this blog and update them. e.g. 'rap songs that sound like they were produced by early aphex twin' really needs an update. so all lists will be subject to change. i might add some 2015 resolutions later. will try not to delete any though. then again, if i get everything on this list done, that would be a pretty satisfactory 2015 already.

Best Rap Videos 2014

Standard disclaimer, many of these tunes make no sense if you're listening on MacBook speakers. You need a system with BASS-- headphones, or a car stereo or a home setup, doesn't matter just so long as it kicks. Otherwise you won't be able to hear some crucial frequencies. I recommend building a wall of subs and lying on top of it.

1. Snootie Wild (ft. K Camp) - "Made Me"

In 2014 the Dirty South still reigns supreme. This is exhibit A. The gorgeous instrumental was produced by "Big Fruit," who I guess drew the short straw on the day they handed out producer names. Nevertheless, it kicks as hard as anything from Mike Will Made It or Metro Boomin'. I love that moment at 0:40, when the bass kicks in amidst twinkling electronics-- sheer bliss. The music pairs perfectly with Snootie Wild's infectious drawl, which I dare you not to get stuck in your head. Snootie looks pretty fly in this vid, don't you think? Especially when he's rocking that crazy tanktop at the laundromat.

2. YG - "Bickin Back Bein Bool"

For a hot minute, everyone at the office was obsessed with this song. Like everything else on this list, it completely lacks any redeeming social value. But the beat by DJ Mustard is insanely catchy, and Y.G.'s swagger carries the whole thing. I like the way he folds his arms after sayin "better call the S.W.A.T.", and the Blood Walk he busts into while hanging in his friend's front yard. I tried to learn the dance by watching "how to blood walk" videos on YouTube, but to no avail. "Gang-affiliated walking" is probably some kind of HR violation.

If you're wondering what "bickin' back" means: Y.G. is affiliated with the Bloods (L.A. street gang.) The Bloods' mortal enemy is the Crips (another street gang.) Bloods express their hatred of Crips by crossing out the letter or sound 'c' and replacing it with 'b'. So "Compton" becomes "Bompton," "cigarette" becomes "bigarette", and "kickin' back being cool" becomes "bickin' back bein' bool."

This is all well and good, you might say, but then why doesn't he replace ALL the 'c' sounds in "kickin back bein cool"-- why is the song not called "bibbin bab bein bool?" Two reasons: 1) because "bibbin bab" sounds fucking ridiculous! come on even Y.G. has his limits. 2) the "c" sound is ok when generated by the letters "ck," because ck stands for Crip Killer. The More You Know

3. iLoveMakonnen (ft. Drake) - "Tuesday"

Makonnen is an ATL homebody who's definitely driving in his own lane. His shit blew up big time when Drake hopped on the remix of this track, blessing us with Drake-isms like "I think we gettin' too deep; shit I'm talkin' might be too true / Upstairs I got Xans in an Advil bottle, I don't take them shits / But you do / So I got 'em for you" Oh Drake, so romantic.

4. iLoveMakonnen - "Don't Sell Molly No More"

This is a weirder tune based on real life... Makonnen used to sell drugs, but the cops raided his ecstasy supplier, causing an MDMA drought. I like the warbly Metro Boomin filters and the washed out colors in the vid. Isn't it cool how weird rap is these days? Lil B, Soulja Boy, Gucci Mane all paved the way, now Young Thug, Chief Keef and a bunch of others are going sublingual, making up their own languages, singing nursery rhymes, abusing AutoTune in countless ways... it's really fun to see the new generation of rap kids run with the ball.

5. Dhananjay The First - "Let You Love Me"

OMG where to begin. This guy is a young exchange student from Indonesia who's going to Grinelle College in Iowa. He listened to a ton of R&B and rap and issued these covers out of nowhere. They were pretty popular on Worldstar! Would not have predicted that. Anyway dude is kind of gross in his sex rhymes, but I find him funny and charismatic and the vids are just ridic. Those Air Jordans! Lighting his candle in his dorm room with a blowtorch. The gimp that hands him a pencil to smoke. "I know you see the doo-rag... sorry baby if it hurts." Maybe I'm just thirsting for the Great Indian-American Rapper to appear... it's not this guy but it's the closest thing yet.

6. Dhanajay The First - "Say My Name"

The first shot where he's counting stacks while getting his head shaved by a dude in a mask... SO CINEMA! SO SOMETHING! Leaving a rack for Ganesh... wearing two different patterns of camo simultaneously... two iPhones... this dude is really the dude. Vice: Dhananjay the First Is Here to Steal Your Girl with No Remorse

7. Chief Keef (fet. Justo and Tadoe) - "Gucci Gang"

You know why Chief Keef's first two videos (the most popular ones, 'I Don't Like' and 'Love Sosa') are shot in his grimy ass apartment? Because he was on house arrest when those songs broke!! Isn't that crazy? Love Sosa has 16 million views. I do respect how Chief Keef completely eschewed the traditional music video route, where you pony up a decent chunk of cash and hire a director and all that. Keef has his own people and his videos are all resolutely DIY. But they're captivating still. At least, I think so. It's just a bunch of dudes jumping around in a room but somehow I end up watching it enthralled. Not saying this is his best vid but I like the low pass filters, his crazy sweater and the random Mexican kid in his gang. I'd say token, but I don't think he's a token exactly. More like someone's cousin's cousin.

8. Chief Keef - "How It Go"

Chief Keef is the rapper I was most obsessed with in 2014. Noisey (Vice music) is obsessed with him too, and their coverage is pretty exhaustive so I won't try to rehash it all. But if you want to talk Chief Keef, get at me, I could talk all day. About his circumstances, his avant-garde musical tendencies, the scary level of real life violence he's experienced and embodied, whether he's autistic or dumb or smart or some category beyond... anyway for this specific video, all that could possibly be said is said, eloquently, in this Noisey article: Chief Keef Just Released a New Video, "How It Go," and It's Amazing in So Many Ways.

9. Girl Talk & Freeway (ft. Waka Flocka) - "Tolerated"

Don't you want to give Waka Flocka a big hug, even when he's eating a mutilated human arm? "I pull up on you like a workout / Better pull that work out"

10. DJ Snake, Lil Jon - "Turn Down for What"

Asian-American protagonist. *sniff* we've come so far


My hands are getting increasingly f*cked up

I hope my mom appreciates that voluntary censorship I just did on her behalf. She always feels great shame when I curse on Facebook. (it's true, if you're a good parent your kids won't curse on FB, if they do it means you've failed somehow... probably because you didn't love them enough)

So, my hands. I have a blood blister, multiple "flappers" (what Nathan calls it when a divot of skin peels almost off, but not completely) and various scrapes/cuts. It's from going to Dogpatch Boulders, where I spend an hour couple times a week trying (and mostly failing) to climb V1s. I don't mind the hand damage. It's a physical reminder of time spent practicing something. Hoping with time my grip will get stronger, and I'll be able to get up more routes. I want to experience progress, that enjoyable sensation of gradual improvement over time. At the moment bouldering seems like the best bet for doing so.

Stuff is going on in my life, but I don't feel free to write about it here. Maybe someday. If you know me, you probably know. If not, feel free to let your imagination run wild. (Oh come on. No, I don't have ebola.)

The difficulty level for climbing routes at the gym goes from V0 to V10. There might be higher levels, but V10 is already pretty damn hard. It's the kind of climb where holds are tiny little smooth bumps, and the climb goes into an overhang and then becomes fully horizontal, so you have to climb hanging upside down from the ceiling. Right now I can only do V0s and some V1s. Michael can do V4s some V5s. Nathan is the best of our bunch, he can do V5s and did his first V6 yesterday. It's satisfying to have these problems (that's what the climbing routes are called, problems) where there's a precisely defined difficulty level. It means you can tell exactly where you're at on the progress curve-- either you can do problems at a certain level, or you can't.

To give you an idea of what world class boulderers are capable of, here's this guy doing the hardest bouldering route in the world, "Wheel of Life." Look at his rest holds! I think the positions he "rests" in are outlawed by the Geneva Conventions.

BD athlete James Kassay climbs the Wheel of Life Direct from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

I've also been getting the itch to try top roping-- it's the type of climbing where you rope up and have a belay partner, and you go really high. With bouldering you never climb higher than you could safely fall. At a lot of the climbing gyms around SF and East Bay bouldering seems like an afterthought; the focus is on top roping. The bouldering routes at such gyms tend to not go that high (maybe 15 feet). That's why Dogpatch Boulders is so nice-- the gym is all bouldering, and the routes all go way further up. You can still fall safely, but it's high enough that it's kind of scary, and if you don't fall right you could hurt yourself. But it's not hard to fall right. I actually enjoy dropping down from the top after finishing a climb. Once you've convinced yourself it's safe, it's quite a thrill.

Another thing that's nice about D.B. is that it's kid friendly. They have a kids climbing area and a pretty nice slide, and the kids also dig the relatively exotic, grungy, vastly padded location of the gym. Asha spends all her time running around and collapsing. Izzy enjoys climbing. Someone put it this way-- the climbing gym is basically a huge jungle gym. So it makes sense that kids would be into it!

Long term, I'd love to try climbing outdoors. I think what would be best is to go w/ some experienced friends would are willing to show me the ropes (no pun intended). I just need to figure out who these friends are first. In the meantime I think top roping indoors is a reasonable goal. I forgot how to belay but Michael said he can show me, it's not that hard.

This guy Alex Hunnold does a thing called "free soloing," where you climb unaided (no ropes belays etc) like in bouldering. But unlike bouldering you do it way way higher than you could safely fall. It's pretty nuts. If you look on Wikipedia a lot of free soloers are dead due to climbing accidents. That said, it is amazing that human beings can do stuff like this.


I contemplate vandalism for the 1000th time

Thoughts while running

  • why is the sky not covered In stars (why is there darkness)

  • who do I want to be

  • embedded mesh network of microphones record all conversations that happen play them back. resolve arguments-- "let's go to the tape"

  • but who would transcribe

  • what can u pay people to do (outsourcing, Craigslist, commissioning custom dolls from china. Craigslist)

  • wish I was going to BM . yags light thing looked cool

  • why art? to ease the pain of life. to fill the need for creative self expression. because it's fun to do

  • paper airplanes

  • I want to touch the world and not get caught