Sunday, July 20, 2008

Zen Shorts

Our kids have way too many toys. I worry about this sometimes.

Our kids also have way too many books. But I don't worry about this so much. I approve of books. I know I should take my kids to the library more often (have I ever taken them there?), but failing that, if my kids are going to own too much of something, books are probably the way to go.

I also like to give my kids choice. If they want a particular book, I tend to respect their preference instead of pushing towards something that I would prefer. I figure they'll stay more engaged if it's something that interests them.

Unfortunately, as a result of this latter policy, a lot of our kids' books fall into a certain category. You probably know the one. Let's call it the Regurgitated Corporate Swill category. Pretty much anything with a recognizable TV or movie character falls into this category. I've generally tried to steer my kids away from this category, but not strongly enough to prevent the accumulation of, for example, Dora Does the Same Damn Thing Over and Over Again volumes 1-50, not to mention The Inane Treasury of Disney Princess Stories: Wishing, Dreaming, and Sighing.

So it was that this weekend, on the way to the bookstore, I made a bold, tyrannical declaration: either the kids would walk out of the store with nothing, or they'd walk out with something that I chose. There was less protest than I expected, and after a bit of browsing we walked out with Zen Shorts.

Zen Shorts is a beautiful little book about three kids that meet a panda who lives just down the street. His name is Stillwater, and he's a peaceful soul. As he plays with them, he shares three stories, adaptations of Zen koans, that give some perspective on their own lives.

It's simple, fairly short, and the art is beautiful. The girls love it, and (unlike many of their books) I don't feel like tearing my eyeballs out while reading it to them. Recommended.

Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

This weekend I stumbled across Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, a three-part musical miniseries starring Neil Patrick Harris, directed by Joss Whedon. It's a fun little piece, apparently written during the WGA writers' strike. It comes across as low-budget but with good production value, and the music is decent.

And it seems I lucked out: they were streaming the episodes for free this weekend, but have since taken them down, and now you must buy them from iTunes. Their business model is clearly of the "stir up word-of-mouth via short-term free distribution, then switch to paid distribution" ilk. And I guess I can't blame them: I liked it a lot, and so I recommend it.

If I am a pawn in their scheme, at least I am not an unwitting pawn.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Chess Boxing

This makes me so happy, and I'm not sure why. Chess Boxing.
The matches work like this: competitors alternate between three-minute rounds of boxing and four-minute rounds of speed chess with one-minute breaks in between to get the gloves off and hunker down at the chess table. The winner is determined by knockout, checkmate, or referee decision.
I'm captivated by the idea of the transition from beating the hell out of some buys face to playing a board game with him, and then back again.