Apr 22, 2014

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Moving Again!

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Well, sort of.

For quite some time (two years!) I’ve been trying to figure out a new domain name for this website.

You see, the Sony Corporation owns the “CyberScholar” trademark. Me putting a dash in there….doesn’t actually get me through any sort of loophole.

And with no intention of trying to convince the 1,000 lawyers they have on retainer that I will be selling “non-competing products”, I have long considered “Cyber-Scholar.com” to be a temporary website.

But finding a suitable domain name has been all but impossible. Just about every permutation of words and letters has been staked by hedgefunds.

I mean it was really, really hard.

So I settled for HomeschoolDad.com even though I positively LOATHE the misnomer “homeschool”.

And even though I had to ante up $2,600 for it!

Looking at the other scant options and prices this just seemed like a bargain and it is somewhat accurately descriptive of me – whether I like it or not.

Don’t expect to see anything on that domain for a while. These things do take some time.

I am excited about this because since its inception, my heart just wasn’t in promoting Cyber-Scholar.com too much since I knew I was going to have to switch it ultimately.

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Apr 1, 2014

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London – Month #2

Here are links to some of those places:

Cutty Sark

National Maritime Museum

National Army Museum

Horniman Museum

The Monument – (to the Great Fire of London 1666)

Battersea Park

HMS Belfast

Tower of London

Harrod’s

Harry Potter Studios

Harrods

Inez has been jetting off here and there for short stints. She’s had work in Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich, and Milan thus far. She’s both flown and taken the train to Paris. And one of her Milan trips….was a “day trip”. Yeah, everything is that close.

John and Chrissy have really been enjoying the British home ed kids. Every week we do “park meet-ups” and the children all get along quite well. I would even go so far as to say that the kids here in London are much, much friendlier than those back in Long Island, New York. But the same is true of NYC kids. For whatever reason big city kids seem to be better *socialized*, if you will.

We’ve also been ice skating with other home edders in Streatham on Fridays. It’s a little bit of a haul to get there. We first take the Tube deeper into the city and then hop an “Overland” train south. But the long trip is very relaxing and scenic for us.

Although on the way back one time…

As we raced for the train, Chrissy proved faster than John and me and boarded RIGHT BEFORE the doors shut. I tried to rip them open to no avail. The train went 50 feet down the platform with me yelling and banging for it to stop – which it did. It’s okay though. My mother left me on a subway platform in NYC all alone back when I was about seven too. And I do believe that supreme act of deprivation helped chisel me into the rugged superhero I am today.

NOTE – train and Tube doors open and shut REALLY fast here and are immune to any attempts to obstruct! Also, when you have the walk signal at an intersection….it only lasts for about 5 seconds on London streets….before you’ll get run over! It’s interesting that in some matters here safety precautions are ridiculously thorough (e.g. switches on all electrical outlets) but others they are severely lacking (e.g. train doors and pit bulls running “off the lead” in parks).

My wife and I went to an Internations meet-up one night for adult socialization. It doesn’t seem to be a married sort of crowd but it was nice to be out on the town – in spite of the $20 vodka tonic my wife ordered from a nice but utterly incompetent bartender. I’m not even sure they’d let him bus tables in NYC…

After some initial reluctance and false starts, we are utilizing and loving ordering our groceries online. They deliver to a 1 hour window….as early as 6am and as late as 10pm….for next to nothing.

One other side effect of online grocery shopping is that you end up eating healthier too. You are less tempted as you are when walking by all the baked goods, the cup cakes and donuts, etc., in the physical store.

As I predicted when we first got here, I have lost a lot of weight – 9 lbs to be precise – which is a lot considering my ectomorph physique in the first place.

Eating healthier – it kills me to pay $17 for a cheeseburger so I don’t, the lack of NY pizza, the dearth of Mexican burritos, walking everywhere, hitting the gym 3 days a week (4.5 mile run plus weights), and deciding to cut just a little sugar out have all conspired to shrink me down to size.

One problem, however, will be figuring out how to get a tan! My wife and I have never been so pale…

Here’s some more recent video footage.

The first part is from London’s Heathrow airport terminal when we were en route to Amsterdam. You’ll hear John playing this EPIC Star Wars theme – very complicated piece that he’s been working tirelessly on. He’s getting quite good at it. At the airport he’s playing it from memory and while you can’t see it in this clip, soon after there was quite a crowd gathered to watch and hear him play.

The kids, both of them this time, played in an all-day chess tournament in the suburbs this past Saturday. They did quite well. John won 6 out of 7 games and took first place in his division.

Chrissy delivered an impressive 4-1-1 record too. This was a qualifying event for a year-long, UK-wide championship run by International Master Michael Basman – whom we were fortunate enough to meet. So both kids advanced to the next round which we be sometime in May or June.

Here’s John with his first place trophy:

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As you can see, he was underwhelmed to put it mildly.

Everything, EVERYTHING is smaller here in London.

Much, much smaller.

For point of reference, here’s John with a 3rd place trophy he won at a huge chess tournament in Brooklyn back in January:

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I mean really, that little trophy they gave him is a joke.

Not only is everything smaller here, but it’s also a lot more expensive.

Yesterday I walked out of a pharmacy after refusing to pay over $10 for a can of much-needed shaving cream.

I figured I’d grow a full beard or something…

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Mar 24, 2014

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Horrible Parenting and Minecraft Addiction

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I STRONGLY believe that Minecraft is a horrible thing. The number of shiftless teens and young adults who are addicted to the tune of 12+ hours a day is troubling enough.

But I submit even worse are the younger kids who are inhaling this poisonous mind drug.

Of course these kids are completely enabled by their parents and that’s a shame.

Now when you search online for “minecraft addiction” invariably what you’ll find is someone complaining about their kid being addicted, perhaps a few sympathetic comments….but then a flood of not only children and said shiftless teens/young adults justifying their indolence, you’ll shockingly find tons of parents also justifying their kids’ addiction. It’s like a lynch mob of sorts, no doubt because someone on a Minecraft forum linked to the complaint. And because no parent really wants to think of themselves as a bad parent, of course.

Amazingly these negligent parents tout the *educational* and, yes, the *social* benefits of playing the game all day indoors, thinking about the game all day long, talking with their friends about the game constantly, and watching YouTube videos about the blasted game.

This is nothing short of a scourge, an outright epidemic in my professional(!) opinion. I mean even parents who are smart enough to educate their own children (aka “homeschoolers”) have been afflicted – perhaps because they have more free time they are more prone. I believe it’s become a classic case of “since everyone does it”…..”it can’t be that bad” – plus the game appears to be complicated and high tech. Didn’t everyone smoke cigarettes 60-70 years ago? And didn’t doctors even promote it as “relaxing”??

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Nonetheless it’s still a game, played sitting down, indoors, and is apparently outrageously addicting – which, and make no mistake about it – is precisely how it was designed to be. It most certainly was not designed for any other explicit purpose other than that – pure addiction.

To those homeschooling parents who succumb, I say that, “The Minecraft curriculum, its software engineers and its marketing psychologists CHOSE their kids”. You see normally, homeschooling parents are the ones who choose the subjects and activities for their children. But clearly not in this case.

The justifications are surreal.

“My kid learned to read because of Minecraft.”

“My kid doesn’t have any friends at school but he’s popular on Minecraft.”

“I know a guy who played video games all day in college….and now he has a Phd.”

“Minecraft got my son interested in computer programming….now he wants to design video games himself.” (So he can learn how to skillfully corrupt young minds too???)

“Dad and often Mom, played a lot of video games when they were young.”

That’s fine. I watched a ton of color TV when I was growing up….but that doesn’t prevent me from admitting that it was a massive waste of time and energy and from banning all TV from my own children – who I hope will have far more successful lives than me and my wife.

Again, this is a classic psychological case of JUSTIFICATION by weak parents, parents who simply don’t want the say “NO” to their kids, parents who haven’t the spine to raise children differently than everybody else, and parents looking to sedate their kids for some momentary, although ultimately very costly, peace.

Check out what this one kid young adult, said online:

I absolutely have to disagree with David’s comment. Computer games ESPECIALLY games like Minecraft are doing nothing but expanding the imagination of today’s youth. I am a 22 year old Dad and have a one year old son.

My dad let me play all the games I wanted and would even play with me while my mother refused to let me do any of that….

This lead to me getting drunk every weekend when I was 14 and getting high every day after school. Then I would go to my dads the next week and would be completely content, I didn’t want to smoke or drink I just wanted to play games. Some parents think of video games as ruining their children’s minds and social lives. When In fact its the opposite. I have friends all over the world whome I have met on video games and even met my girlfriend on World of Warcraft. The next time you see your Child on the computer and think to yourself. “Why isn’t he outside having fun.” Think of these three facts.

1. Your child is within eyesight of you so you know he isn’t getting into trouble.
2. The world as we know it is leaning more and more heavily on computers. So when your child goes to get a job with all of his time spent on the computer he will know exactly how to solve this problem or that problem.
3. He will have unbreakable bonds with people all around the world. And when I say unbreakable. I refer to myself who once lost my job due to something far out of my control and had no place to go. I was evicted for not paying rent and had no money or anywhere to go and one of my British friends sent me a plane ticket and dealt with my jobless self for a month before I found a job and got back on my feet. And I actually met this friend on minecraft.

Okay, the kid is semi-illiterate which isn’t that bad, tragically, these days.

BUT notice how self-unconscious he is.

He’s spent a lot of time drinking and getting high, at 14! Apparently Minecraft is so addicting that it could replace that compulsive behavior. Now he’s 22 and has a child out of wedlock.

He had no job, no money, and was evicted from his apartment before one of his “Minecraft friends” gave him a handout. How stellar!

Er…..maybe the kid is so screwed up BECAUSE he’s spent years playing Mindcraft!!!

I mean how clueless, how self-delusional does he have to be to go in a forum and post his dazzling accomplishments in arguing for the merits of Minecraft???

In that same thread there’s a mother who congratulates herself for demanding that her kids read for 20 minutes to EARN 20 minutes of Minecraft.

Only 20 minutes? That reminds me of these morbidly obese women who used to work in my office in Philadelphia. They’d go out for lunch every day, for Chinese food, cheesesteaks, or 3 slices of pepperoni pizza, and then make a big deal about taking the stairs 4 flights to the office rather than using the elevator. Sure, that will help.

Again, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been discussing one of my underperforming students with their parents and the subject of “Minecraft” came up. This is a serious problem – a fire that parents most definitely should not play with.

Thankfully I have the comments of these posts turned off (unsolved problems with spam) so this post won’t be inundated with illiterate comments from 12 year old Minecraft addicts or from their justifying parents.

One last note…

I can’t emphasize enough how pathological and how furious these justifications run online and offline.

And interestingly I’ve noticed the same surreal, chauvinistic, justifying zeal in the comments of any blog post or newspaper story that dares tout the hazards of marijuana legalization.

Make what you will of that analogy.

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Mar 17, 2014

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Amsterdam Trip!

The first clip is just some of the raw footage I shot.

The second video, below, is more instructive as it features my artful narration:

Friday

Our plane leaves London’s Heathrow airport at 6:15 pm. The flight is only 50 minutes but we lose an hour on the time change. Cab to Marriott on Stadhouderskade costs about 38 euro ($52.82).

Around 10 pm, with the kids trying to sleep, I wander across the canal to check out the surrounding area. I walk through and around Leidseplein Square which is packed with nightlife: restaurants, bars, outdoor seating, and very crass young Europeans. I was a little bit disgusted actually.

Saturday

Up early, eager to get going. We hit the Rijksmuseum, take the riverboat cruise around the city ($60 for the family), enjoy an amazing lunch at Singel 404 (“best sandwich in Amsterdam” according to Google), and explore the city for the rest of the day. Dinner was consumed at a slightly above average Italian place that is not worth linking to.

Sunday

Breakfast was those famous Dutch pancakes (rather than the $40 pp buffet at the hotel). We ambled our way north slowly to the Dutch Resistance Museum (highly recommended for history buffs). We walked back south with the intention of avoiding the Red Light District but ended up going right through it! We just made sure the kids did not look at the products offered for sale in the store windows – and they didn’t see much, nor did we other than a lot of puerile, degenerate marijuana enthusiasm. More wandering through the streets. Stopped for Belgian frites near the wax museum. Rested up at the hotel. Went to see Anne Frank’s hiding place around 7 pm. The line is ridiculously long at other times – upwards of 2 hours we heard. We had to wait 45 minutes nonetheless. My wife and daughter really, really appreciated it because they have been reading The Diary of Anne Frank. No pics of that because it was nighttime and because I didn’t go in (to save my $13 admission!) Dinner at authentic and famous Dutch restaurant – Moeders – was expensive but worth every penny/euro.

Monday

Inez had to work in her Amsterdam office. I took the kids on the “tram” (they begged to ride it) up north to the Science Museum but it was closed. We settled for the adjacent Dutch Maritime Museum – which I found mediocre but my kids really enjoyed (my vote hasn’t counted….in years!) Walked all the way back through town. Lunched at the same Singel 404 because it was so darn good the first time and because there was no line at 3 pm for lunch. Back at the hotel I put the kids on the treadmill alongside me in the empty gym. Although a great hotel gym it was empty every day….because Europeans don’t work out! My kids each did 30 minutes on the treadmill which got me excited that they might conk out come bedtime! We met my wife and one of her colleagues (a French girl) for dinner at a highly rated Indonesian restaurant around 8 pm. The food was phenomenal and has whetted our appetites for more of this cuisine. (None of us had ever eaten it before.)

Tuesday

Inez was working again. The kids and I had another round of Dutch pancakes and riding the tram. We spent about 3.5 hours at the famed Science Museum before walking all the way back to the hotel – again, another deliberate effort by me to tire them out! – and catching a cab to the airport.

Final Thoughts

Amsterdam is definitely a great place to go. Probably a must see here in Europe even for people uninterested in the debauchery. But the city is not big and is very easy to get around in. So four days is almost enough to do it all. The only things we didn’t do were rent bikes (probably too dangerous for the kids), spend time at the big park (Vondelpark), tour the Heineken factory (Heineken tastes SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER in Amsterdam), and visit the wax museum. The city is actually very safe. The people speak enough English and are nice….EXCEPT when they get on their bicycles. They will run you and especially your small, clueless kids over at outrageous speeds. The bike lanes also feature lunatic motorbikes which for some unbeknownst reason do not have to drive on the streets! I was very close to taking a swing at some of these bicyclists for their appalling sense of “right of way”.

It’s a little bit expensive to come here but basically all of Europe is. Nonetheless, on a tight budget one can certainly find plenty to do and see in Amsterdam. My wife had to work in Amsterdam on Monday and Tuesday so her flight and two days at the Marriott were paid for. So we shelled out for 3 plane tickets from London and 2 hotel nights which I think together cost around $1,400. Cabs to and from the airport are always pricey but thankfully these were also “business expensed”.

Again, this is one of the major reasons we jumped at the opportunity to move to London – so we could travel all over Europe for much cheaper than we would be able to from New York.

We arrived home positively exhausted. Trips like these aren’t meant to be relaxing. We’re probably not going back to Amsterdam for a long, long time – if ever – so it made sense to try to cram as much sightseeing in as possible.

For our next trip we were thinking hard about going to Krakow, Poland over the Easter weekend. But now it looks more like we will do some of the English countryside, Stonehenge and whatnot.

Last night we booked tickets for an 8-day trip to Sicily this summer. This will certainly cost a lot more money (about $5,000?) even flying from within Europe.

But you know what? My wife and I have been eyeing this trip, and theoretically saving up for it, for 10 years now.

And it would cost twice as much if we flew there from New York in the summertime.

Oh yeah, and there’s been a whole lot more exciting stuff going on for us in London.

I just need a moment catch my breath…

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Mar 3, 2014

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A Peek Inside The Ivory Tower

Alright the “ivory” was some of the paint color. And this “tower”, not withstanding the 16 ft ceilings, is only on the second floor of the apartment building. Although here in London the Brits refer to the second floor as the “first floor”!

Some of the books in that video can be found on my (incomplete) curriculum page, along with some other resources that we have used in the past.

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Feb 23, 2014

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Living in London – Weeks 2, 3, and 4

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Sorry. We’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to update…

 Week 2

We finally had our belongings delivered from the States!

Our PCs, the piano keyboard, our kitchen stuff, the rest of our clothing, our books and workbooks,…

It was only then that I discovered how much my daughter and my wife OVERPACKED!

My wife packed 4, yes, FOUR tablecloths.

My daughter packed all sorts of junk. When I asked her why she brought along one of her finished works of pottery she said, “Dad, I only brought two of them.”

I said, “Two of them? What did you pack two of EVERYTHING? What do you think….this is NOAH’s ARK or something???”

We did manage to fit everything in a nook or cranny. But I don’t know how much room we have available for “acquisition”.

It was quite the descent that Monday. We got more furniture from the rental company delivered as well. Plus, we finally got the internet working. Even though all they had to do was flip a switch (no cable guy) remotely, it still took about 10 days. Oh, and the furniture delivery guys were, well, put it this way, if they were working in NYC they would be fired and or bankrupt. They showed up 2 hours late despite a call that said they would be there in “30 minutes”. Then they proceeded to sit in the truck for an hour, RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY APT, and I have to assume they were taking an executive lunch break or something. So they came in over 3 hours late plus they didn’t have everything they were supposed to have. Then they had to disassemble a bunk bed, and reassemble a new one which took FOREVER. Like I said, they’d be out of business in NYC. They must have been unionized or something. What seriously hard working person on this Earth ever has time for an HOUR LUNCH anyway???

Later in the week we went to a “home ed” park day. We went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We did a long scoot (kids on scooters) to the library and back one day in the freezing rain. So what….they needed the exercise. My wife had to go to Dublin for 2 days for work. I think she ate a $24 hamburger there – Dublin is notoriously expensive. On Friday the furniture “fools” came back and wasted more of my time. I dropped the kids off at another home edder’s house for a playdate. And when Inez got back from the airport, she and I went out to dinner at a wonderful Italian place called Orsini. (A 14 year old home educated babysitter, excuse me, a “child-minder” watched our kids.)

All week the apartment was in disarray, in various states of unpacking. Saturday was a day dedicated to organizing it all. I don’t think we left the apartment. Sunday we went to church; ate out an afternoon lunch at yet another fabulous Italian place – although it was rather pricey.

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Week 3

Monday we went to the famed British Museum whose claim to fame is housing the Rosetta Stone. (yawn)

Tuesday our new piano teacher came for his first lesson. Both kids really liked him ($85 for 90 minutes). And even though I told him my son practiced for “an hour a day” he was still very surprised at how well John played.

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Wednesday we ventured out early to the London Transport Museum which was awesome.

That afternoon I had to stay in and teach some math to New Yorkers over Skype. When I was done, even though it was 4pm, the kids wanted to scoot up to the playground (Princess Diana Memorial Playground, 1.3 miles away) in Hyde Park so we ran out to try to beat the darkness. But the park was closed when we got there! Who closes a playground at 4:45??? Well, the Brits apparently do. I mean kids only get out of school at 3pm or so…so what’s the point really?

Thursday we met up with another home ed family at Holland Park. I lost my daughter there for about 15 minutes – and I had no idea she was gone. There was a girl playing down the other end with a pink jacket and I just assumed that was my Christine. So a cop comes up, with my daughter, saying the she was sitting in their park police station for 15 minutes. I said thank you and he proceeded to take down all sort of information from me (like my DOB!). Finally I incredulously asked him if he was citing me or something. He said he wasn’t….but then kept asking me questions. I was getting miffed and then he told me that I should “keep an eye on my kids.” And that he understood because he had children himself.

Really? This guy hasn’t seen his kids in 8 hours, I bet, and he’s going to lecture me, a hands-on homeschool father, to “keep an eye on my kids.”

Whatever, bloke.

Friday the weather was crazy windy. In the morning I took the kids on a scoot in a new direction, south. We scooted about a mile down to the Thames (I can’t/won’t pronounce it like the Brits). At night we had the child-minder again so we could got out for a Valentine’s Day dinner. I couldn’t find a TGI-Fridays in London(!)….so I settled on a highly rated Indian restaurant (Maharani Soho) in a hopping area. It was terrific and not too expensive for London ($115 for dinner and two classes of wine).

Saturday Inez took the kids to the library; I did some work online; and we took it easy. After church on Sunday I ventured to pick up a UK-compatible printer (mine can’t handle 240 volts) and an expresso machine from the gentleman whom my wife replaced here (and who’s moving back to America). Inez took the kids to St. James Park, Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben.

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Week 4

After doing our core academic work in the morning we set out for the Museum of Childhood which John and Chrissy really enjoyed. It really is a historical toy museum and quite interesting for us parents too – to see all the stuff we grew up with – all the junk that is still in our own parents’ attics! I think I took the wrong train there and we had to walk through some dicey neighborhood. Obviously we went home via a different route.

Tuesday we had our second piano lesson. Afterwards we ran out to Queens Park for a home ed park meet-up. They do a different park each week so it’s been a nice way to expand and explore. It was pouring right when we “alighted” the Tube so we took shelter and read our books until it passed. And then the sun came out along with 2, arguably 3, sensational rainbows. Really, it’s been around 50 degrees all week. We’ve certainly turned the winter weather corner here in London. I vaguely heard there has been a bit of snow back in the Northeastern US….but I’m not really paying much attention (haha).

Try as I might, I cannot remember what we did on Wednesday!

After a quiet day doing our math, chess, piano, etc….on Thursday afternoon we made it to Princess Diana Playground BEFORE they rudely closed it again at 4:45pm.

Friday we ventured out first to Picadilly Circus the “Times Square” of London and then down to the famed Trafalgar Square where the kids really enjoyed climbing on the statues. Then we met another family at the National Portrait Gallery – a home edding mom I found and contacted via her blog. She was very nice, very helpful, and our daughters seemed to hit it off right away. We strolled through Leicester Square (pic below) on the way home

Saturday I took John to his first London chess tournament. They are definitely not as organized or as well-attended as the NY chess tournaments. But it was fine. The only problem was that John ended up playing a couple people much stronger than him, and a couple that were much weaker than him. This is always a risk with small events. It’s very easy to waste a day of it. But it wasn’t a total waste. The tournament took place in the suburbs – so it was our first trip out there on the train. Everything we do is a scenic adventure.

My wife took Christine to the famous Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill which apparently was fantastic. Afterwards they went to the Princess Diana playground in Hyde Park BUT had to wait in line for 20 minutes just to get in. Yeah, it was that crowded. They had a sign out that said, “Queue Management”!

Recall I had been there a few days ago on a weekday afternoon. I remarked that it must be a mob scene on weekends. I mean it’s not even warm out yet! Quite frankly, the size of the biggest playground (the ONLY one) in their biggest park (Hyde Park) is a joke. Yeah it looks nice and has a cool pirate ship for the kids to climb on….but it needed to be 6 times the size. Everything is too tiny here!

Today, Sunday, we ventured out to Camden Market and had a great time. It featured the best food we have had in London thus far. There was a lot going on there and would highly recommend this as a tourist stop. We’ll definitely be going back….to eat.

So that is the activity update for now. In the future I hope to give some more of my acute social commentaries. They are welling up inside me at this point…

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Feb 15, 2014

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Piano Update – Almost 2 Years

As someone who’s never played the piano, I’m continually and increasingly amazed at watching his fingers move all over the keyboard.

The piano is a core part of our “curriculum” and it has traveled to London with us. And we’ve hired a piano instructor already too.

An hour of practice per day, maybe a little more. That’s it.

It generates a lot of momentum and really adds up over time.

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