Monday, October 29, 2007


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.
— Rev. Martin Niemöller

Dear Spike:

I first remember reading Rev. Niemöller’s enduring words on a small laminated poster stuck to a bulletin board in a high school classroom.

I didn’t really know what a socialist was — let alone a trade unionist. But like most American kids with a public school education, I knew what had happened when “they came for the Jews.” And from that context I immediately understood the depth and profundity of Niemöller’s poem — even if I didn’t understand its relevance in a remedial freshman English class.

Indeed, the horrid enormity of that which Niemöller originally spoke has always made it difficult for me to put his words into any sort of modern context — lest of all for our lives in this amazingly blessed nation.

But I’ve been thinking a lot, today, about Niemöller’s poem. And though it may amount to literary and historical blasphemy, I’ve begun to rewrite it in my mind.

Something along these lines...

First they told me that tens of millions of Americans were unable to go to the doctor — and I did not speak out; I had insurance.
Then they told me that millions upon millions of children were uninsured — and I did not speak out; I had no children.
Then they raised my wife’s insurance premium — threefold — and I did not speak out; we simply switched to my insurance.
And then, today, they priced me out of my insurance. . .
And it seems there is no one left to speak out for me, my wife, or my beautiful baby girl.

Niemöller’s poem, I think, was not really about the Jews. It was about the trade unionists and the socialists (and, in other versions, about communists and social democrats and Catholics.) It was about setting the table for larger evils with smaller ones that go unnoticed because they effect the few, the poor and the unempowered.

I’ve long been a believer that basic, universal healthcare is nothing less than a moral imperative for our nation — and particularly for our nation’s children and its senior citizens. But in 29 years on this planet, there has not been a single moment when I have not been insured myself. And so I did not speak out. Not as tens of millions of Americans used the emergency room as their primary care physician. Not as millions of children and seniors went without basic medical care. And not as some lamented the rising costs of workplace premiums – or the absurd costs of open-market insurance for those whose employers wouldn’t or couldn’t pay.

Now, facing an enormous increase in our family’s healthcare costs, I have no reason to wonder why no one spoke out sooner. I know very well why.

You cannot bear every cross or stick your finger in every leaking dam. But do not fail to do so for lack of a clear and present danger. And do not fail to do so for lack of empathy.

You will not always know which dam will break or which cross will fall. You will not always know whether small evils will grow into larger ones.

But every small evil is evil. And if you do not speak out, who will?


Saturday, October 27, 2007


Dear Spike:

When you are older, you will kneel beside your window sill and watch the birds hopping from branch to branch in the lilac bush. And I will stand quietly in your doorway, lean against the door frame, and sigh.

When you are older, you will walk to the park, all by yourself, for the very first time. And I will sneak out the back door, slip down the alley, and secretly watch you from across the street.

When you are older, you will stay up late to finish a report that you should have started working on days before. And I will brew a cup of coffee, add a lot of cream and sugar, and set it on the table beside you.

When you are older, you will be angry at me for not allowing you to go to a movie or a concert or out with some friends and you will storm up the stairs and slam your bedroom door. And when you open your window to sneak out, later that night, I will just happen to be right there in the backyard, watering the garden at 2 a.m.

When you are older, someone will break your heart. And I will stock your room with tissues, flowers, lavender-blueberry chocolate bars and a stack of Phil Collins albums. And the next morning we will go to breakfast at a diner with a lot of good looking servers.

When you are older, you will go on a trip far away from home. And I will wait by the phone with my computer in my lap, clicking anxiously on the “get new mail” button in anticipation of hearing from you.

When you are older, you will have a child of your own. And I will try hard not to call you every single evening to hear my grandchild giggle, gurgle and cry. But I probably will, anyway.

When you are older, you will bring your family for a visit to our home. And your child will kneel beside the window sill and watch the birds outside. And you will stand quietly in the doorway, lean against the door frame, and sigh.

And I will stand quietly, down the hallway, and watch you. And sigh.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Dear Spike:

At nearly five months old, your hair is still just a little tuft of fluff, most of it running down the center of your head.

That’s fine by me, as it makes for a righteous mohawk. Just a little water (or spit, depending upon what’s available) a few strokes and — voilà! — a wicked mane to match your name.

In fact, yours is such a cool ‘do that I started to get a bit nostalgic.

The last time I sported a mohawk — a spiky, Kool-aid red one, it was — I was 17 years old. I wasn’t a punk or an anarchist. I was just a kid who, with a few weeks to go before leaving for basic training, wanted to revel in what little freedom he had remaining.

By the time I’d ended my service to our empire, my hairline had receded to a point that made it rather ridiculous to even consider wearing a mohawk — or for that matter, wearing hair at all. Fact is, the last time I had any hair on my head was around the time I married your mother. Shortly thereafter, I started shaving my head completely. And I’ve been doing so ever since.

But with my paternity leave, last month, came an opportunity to let my hair out, so to speak. I had no bosses to impress. No one needed to take me seriously — least of all myself. And your mother, bless her heart, said she couldn’t care less how I wore my hair, so long as I promised to make sure that you were getting fed and changed on a regular basis.

It wasn’t really much of a mohawk. Not the way you might imagine one, anyway. My hairline starts at a place near the apex of my skull — perhaps an inch toward my nose from there.

I called it a halfhawk.

It was pretty ugly. But I kind of liked it. Still, I knew I’d have to shave it off eventually.

And I knew exactly when that would be.

I used to dress up for work every day. Slacks, shirt, tie, suspenders — even a fedora hat, sometimes.

The whole bit.

These days, though, I spend a lot less time in the office. And on the days when I actually do make an appearance there, it’s typically in shorts, sandals and a T-shirt— often the one I slept in the night before.

Most of the folks with whom I work know that, if I do happen to come to work in a tie, it’s because someone died.

One of the more somber parts of my job at the newspaper is writing about local soldiers who are killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Most things get easier with time and experience. This job is the exception.

To date, I’ve written the front-page obituaries of more than 30 slain service members. They have died in mortar attacks, roadside explosions, shootings, accidents and suicide bombings. After a while, I know, the readers of my paper have stopped distinguishing one dead soldier from another. It’s my job to give them a reason to pay attention, one more time.

And no, it never gets any easier. It’s a miserable assignment — made bearable only by the faint promise that, in telling these stories, I might in some small way be helping to dispel the utterly fictional notion that war is glorious.

War is not glorious. War is hell. War is the hell of hell.

And if the hell of hell has its own hell, it is involuntarily populated by the soul-crushed families of those left behind to ponder where all the flowers have gone.

I met Carol Thomas Young a day after she lost her son, Brandon, in a bombing in Baghdad. She struck me as remarkably poised for a women who had suffered so great a loss. Later, she would describe that day — and all of the days and weeks following Brandon’s death — as surreal, frightening and confusing.

“I walked around in a haze for the better part of that year,” she recently told me.

Amidst everything else they are going through, I doubt my appearance in shorts and sandals — or even a mohawk, for that matter — could possibly make things any worse for these families.

Still, I prefer not to find out. And so it was that, at about 12:45 this afternoon, I found myself in the bathroom, madly running the electric clippers over my scalp before hopping into a pair of slacks, a clean shirt, tie, jacket and fedora hat.

On the drive out to West Valley City, where I was to meet the family of a soldier who was killed Tuesday in Afghanistan, I thought about the mess of hair I’d left in the sink.

And I started to get a bit nostalgic. For a haircut I’d lost only minutes earlier.

Not because it was fun. And not because it looked good — because it certainly did not. And not even because I enjoyed sharing a hairdo with my daughter — which I certainly did.

No, I missed being able to say, “I’ll shave it off the next time I have to interview a dead soldier’s family,” and being able to imagine that day would never come.

When will I ever learn?


Saturday, October 20, 2007


Dear Spike:

There’s plenty great about being an American.

Freedom. Democracy. The Bill of Rights. And so on an so forth. Yada yada yada.

You know what I like best about being an American?

The food.

Not the American food — although, truly, there is little better than a thick and juicy bacon cheeseburger or a hot and sloppy chili dog.

No, if there’s something wonderful about being the most multicultural nation in the history of the world, it’s the diversity and availability of food from every nook and cranny on the globe.

Salt Lake City is by no stretch of the imagination the food capital of this country, but within four blocks of our home we have access to Lebanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Hawaiian, Italian, Brazilian and four or five different kinds of Mexican food. If you wanted, you could eat the regional food of a different country every single day for a month and never have to leave the city limits.

I’ve traveled around a bit. And yes, the tacos are better in Puerto Vallarta. The schnitzel is better in Saarbruken. The tapas are better in Madrid.

Actually, that last part is a lie. The tapas sucked in Madrid. I mean, really, anchovies and raisins on white bread? What the hell is that? True story: Your mother and I found it difficult to find food we liked in Spain. On the second night of our honeymoon, we went to a Spanish buffet that boasted 100 items on the menu. “Great,” I said. “We’ll find the items we like and we can order those for the rest of the trip.” Ninety-nine items later (neither of us were brave enough to try the sheep brains) we were still hungry. So the next day we decided to follow the locals. And they led us to McDonald’s.

But the gastronomic circle of hell that is the city of Madrid not withstanding, it stands to reason that if you’re looking for the best Italian food in the world, it might be best to go to Rome.

But if you’re looking for the second-best Italian food? Or the second best Cambodian food? Or the second best Greek food? And you want to find them all within a few minutes of one another? This is the place, my darling.

I’ve been thinking a lot about food because you had your very first meal of rice cereal today.

Dr. Schriewer told us that we would know when you were ready to eat when you started paying special interest to us when we were eating. We thought those instructions were a bit vague because you seem to pay close attention to everything we do.

But sure enough, just yesterday as we were eating dinner, you began watching every biteful of food that went from my fork to my mouth. A few minutes later, when you began making chewing movements with your mouth, we understood what Dr. Schriewer had meant.

So this morning we headed to the store to purchase some baby-sized spoons (we already had the box of rice cereal on hand — an impulse buy from a few weeks ago.) And this afternoon, with your great grandparents on hand as witnesses, your mother scooped up a little cereal and gave you your very first mouthful of something other than breast milk.

At first you squirmed and spit up — but then you really seemed to get the hang of it. We all took turns shoveling rice cereal into your adorable little mouth. You ate the whole bowl.

I really liked the determination I saw in you today. It was strange at first, but you stuck to it. And ultimately, I think, you got to liking it.

I hope that becomes a habit for you.

It’s amazing what diversity there is in what different groups of our species considers food. Some of us eat sheep brains, others consume ants. Some enjoy snails and others dine on pig intestines.

There are even groups of people who eat dirt. (The practice is called geophagy, not to be confused with geology, which is the study of dirt.)

I’ve chowed down on Guinea Pig, rattlesnake, muskrat, alligator and camel. I’ve eaten seaweed, dried squid and pickled bok choy.

I didn’t like all of it, but I’m glad I tried it.

You don’t have to try everything, but I’d encourage you to try as much as you can possibly bring your stomach to try. There’s a whole wide world out there — but, if you're willing, you won't have to go far to taste it.


This video is also on YouTube.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Dear Spike:

My friend Steve sent us a photo of his daughter, Emma, riding a horse. It was her first lesson, but she looked perfectly poised — as though she’s been riding forever.

It seems Emma had gotten it into her mind that she would like to learn to ride and told her parents so. Steve must have panicked a little, because while he’s the kind of dad who encourages his kids to try new things, horse-riding lessons are pretty expensive.

And so he made her a deal: They’d split the cost.

Instead of asking for presents for her eighth birthday, Emma let everyone know that she wanted to take a few riding lessons. When all was said and done, she had collected about $200 — which, along with her parent’s matching contribution, will pay for about 15 lessons. Steve couldn’t have been prouder. In addition to getting to watch his little girl ride, he knows that she’s invested in this activity and values her practice time all the more.

In this world, we live a life of relative luxury. We do not want for food or clothing. We have a wonderful home and two running vehicles. We attend sporting events and movies. We have season passes to the zoo and aviary. We eat out once a week (and sometimes more than that.) Occasionally, we even get to the opera or take in a play at the Eccles Theater.

So when the time comes that you decide that you want to take up horseback riding, or dirtbike racing or ski jumping, you might not at first understand if I am hesitant to agree.

As much as I want you to have a wide variety of experiences and a vast array of exciting activities, I want you also to learn the value of a hard day’s play. And I’m not so sure that, when things are simply given to us, we really appreciate them all that much.

I remember in high school there was a boy named Daniel whose parents gave him, for his 16th birthday, a new Ford Mustang.

At 16 years and one day old, he crashed it.

And so they got him a new one.

And he crashed that one, too.

You will never want for food or clothing (the kind designed to keep you warm and modest, not the kind designed to impress people with fancy labels.) You will never want for an education. You will never want for medicine. And you will never want for our love.

But when you’re ready to pony up, you may just have to pony up. If you want it bad enough, I figure, you’ll find a way to make it happen.


Monday, October 15, 2007


Dear Spike:


It wasn’t a surprising result. The soccer team we cheer for hasn’t exactly made a habit of winning this year. And so, when the last minute of the last home game of the season ticked away, with the visiting team up one goal to nil, it was like watching an old dog — one who should have died years and years earlier — finally pass on, at long last out of its misery.

We lead pretty charmed lives, so it would be silly to complain about something so trivial as a sports team. This wasn’t a good year. Neither was last year. And next year? I’m not expecting any miracles. I’ll watch. I’ll cheer. Win or lose.

Don’t get me wrong. Some people will tell you that it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. If that were true, there would be no point to playing the games we play.

Of course I’d rather watch this team win. I’d rather cheer for goal after goal after goal. I’d rather walk down the steps of the stadium marveling at the way they pulled one out, once again.

But even more, I simply enjoy watching the beautiful game with my beautiful wife and my beautiful daughter.

Ah yes, life is beautiful indeed. Win or lose. Win or lose.


Saturday, October 13, 2007


Dear Spike's Friends:

This all started a little over a year ago, shortly after I learned that Spike's mom was pregnant.

My good friend and fellow journalist Matt Canham had just finished writing a profile of blogger Heather Armstrong, a fellow inmate of Salt Lake City better known as Dooce.

I'd already been blogging for years, first as a way to keep my column-writing skills fresh and then, upon my first reporting trip to Iraq, as a platform to tell stories and share insights that might not otherwise fit into the print edition of the newspaper I work for.

Matt suggested that I add, to that repertoire, a blog about my impending fatherhood.

I had already resolved to write Spike letters. Having recently returned from my second reporting trip to Iraq — on board a medical transport plane alongside dozens of wounded service members in various states of injury and dismemberment — I suppose my mortality was on my mind. And I guess I wanted to make sure that, in the unlikely event that my child was to grow up without a father, that he or she wouldn't have to do so without at least a few words of fatherly love and advice.

I never intended to write Spike every day, or even every week, but over the past year I've found that I've had a lot more to tell her than I thought I would when I began this project. I've also found that, for whatever reason, there are a few of you out there who enjoy reading Spike's mail.

So this evening, I spent some time cleaning up — changing the banner, photos, colors and fonts in hopes of making it a bit easier on your eyes. I've added a few more links to the blogs of people who read and comment here regularly and also added a section (below the links) with some of the recent articles I've written for the newspaper I work for.

Why fuss? Well, admittedly, I think it would be fun to see the little ticker at the bottom of this Web page spin 'round like our gas meter in the dead of winter, but I'm sure you'll all understand when I say that the little girl who is curled up next to me right now will always be my most important reader.

Even if she can't read yet.

Spike's Dad.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Dear Spike:

About a year ago — when you were still growing inside your mother — your Great Aunt Karen opined that, come this time of year, you might be dressed up as a "Spooky Spookerson."

Your mother and I never really figured out what that was, but we still really love the way it sounds.

So sometimes, when you are having a meal, we call you a Milky Milkerson.

And sometimes, when you are doing your... um... thing... we call you a Poopy Pooperson.

And sometimes, when you are napping soundly (as you are right now) we call you a Sleepy Sleeperson.

Anyway, it's that time of year. And given that we still don't know exactly what a Spooky Spookerson is supposed to look like, we've tried a few things out...

Catty Catterson

Cat suit: $1.95, Deseret Industries.

Pumpkiny Pumpkinserson

Kick-ass knit pumpkin hat courtesy of our friend Brianna Lange; Ghost shirt: $.95 at ThriftTown.

Risky Businesserson

Sunglasses courtesy of our lovely friend Jessica Ravitz, Bummis Super Whisper diaper wrap: $12.25 at (thanks to DeAnn and Nolan)

Supery Superson

Superman onesie: $18 at Hot Topic

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Dear Spike:

If there is a God, several religious traditions tell us, she created us in Her image.

Some folks take that to mean we have a lot to live up to. But I’ve always kind of figured it means God must be just as fallible, dirty, ugly, greedy, jealous, hateful and violent as we are.

But sometimes, I think, God know must know when my opinion of mankind — and thus, of Her — has sunk to a new low. Because whenever I’m ready to write off mankind and God alike as hopeless failures, I see a glimpse of what we could be.

And in a glimpse of a glimpse, I see what She might be.

A few weeks ago, I happened to be in your mother’s classroom when the school librarian came in to schedule a time for the kindergartners to visit the library for the annual book fair.

I’ll bet you’ll love the book fair. I certainly did when I was a child. It was a traveling bookstore — a chance to touch and hold a shiny new book, to leaf through its pages (or even take a peek at the end) before shelling out a few bucks to make it mine.

But something was instantly clear to me as I listened to your mother work out a time to bring her class to the fair. And it almost broke my heart.

Most of your mom’s students can’t even afford to buy a school lunch. And so I doubted any of them were going to have the money to purchase a book at the fair. Instead, I feared, they would be paraded in front of a bunch of great books — and then told that, unless they had money — they wouldn’t be allowed to take one home.

When the librarian left, I asked your mom how many of her students would be able to buy a book.

“Maybe two or three,” she sighed.

“And how many do you think have ever received a brand new book of their own?” I asked.

“Maybe two or three,” she sighed again.

As a matter of fact, she lamented, a lot of her students probably didn’t even have a single book, new or used, at home, except maybe for the ones they borrowed from the school library.

A few days ago, I sent an e-mail to everyone I work with at the newspaper, explaining that I was going to set out a coffee can in hopes of collecting enough money to let every kid in your mom’s class pick out a brand new book of their own at the fair. It was probably a violation of workplace protocol, but I thought it would be funny if they tried to fire me for collecting money to buy books for kids.

Last night I counted the money. There was enough for every kid in your mom’s class to buy a book.

And for every kid in the kindergarten class down the hall.

And for every kid in the class next to that.

And for every kid in the class next to that.

This morning, every single kindergarten student at your mom’s school went to the book fair and picked out a book of their very own, all thanks to a bunch of cynical, cold-blooded journalists.

That was plenty enough to make my day. And it did wonders to restore my faith in humanity.

But I'm not sure that God's all that good at leaving well enough alone.

This afternoon, I spoke to an incredible man named Ahmed Shah Karimi. Shah, as folks call him, lives in Concord — just about 45 minutes up Interstate 680 from where your grandparents live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A few years back, Shah served as an interpreter for a National Guard unit from Utah that I have been following. And that's how I happened to be speaking to him today.

Born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, Shah attended university in India. Among his classmates was a young political science student named Hamid Karzai. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Shah went to the United States and took a job driving limousines in New York City. Karzai returned to Afghanistan, where he helped raise money to fight against the Russian occupation.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 changed both men’s lives forever. Karzai — who had been exciled to Pakistan during the Taliban regime's rule — was installed as Afghanistan’s president following the U.S. invasion. Shah, who was picking up a client near the World Trade Center when the first hijacked airplane crashed, also found himself back in his native land — working for the U.S. military.

One day, Shah told me, he took an afternoon off to go into Kabul.

“It was my first time back in the city,” he said. “And when I got out of the taxi, I looked around and saw so many little boys, just wandering around on the street. I came into a shop and I stopped to talk with people and they told me ‘yes, these children are orphans. They have no fathers. No parents.”

There are 40,000 orphans living on the streets of Kabul. According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the city’s orphanages can only shelter about 2,000.

As the story is told by Shah's friends, the intrepid interpreter pretty much made a B-line to Karzai's presidential palace, emerging from a meeting with his old classmate with a 50-acre land grant on the outskirts of Kabul and a plan to build the nation's largest orphanage and school.

Shah didn’t know anything about fundraising, or building, or managing an orphanage. But he knew what he had to do.

“As a human being I had to act,” he said. He’s now well on his way to raising the funds to move his family back to Afghanistan and begin construction on his project.

Maybe there is a God. And maybe She created us in Her image. And maybe She is just as fallible, dirty, ugly, greedy, jealous, hateful and violent as we are.

But maybe, also, we have a lot to live up to.

If only in a glimpse of a glimpse, I hope you see Her that way.



Dear Spike:

I keep looking for you — for the future you — in the young girls I see about town. In the little ones, jumping double-dutch at your mother’s school. In the teenage ones, shopping near my office downtown. In the college ones, listening to their I-pods as they ride the TRAX trains up to the University.

And I worry. Lots.

Girls at every age appear to have one thing in common: A desire not to seem intelligent, independent or enlightened.


This afternoon, as I carried you back to the car after a lunch date with your mom, I happened to overhear two young girls talking. They were eight. Maybe nine. One had on a gray sweatshirt. The other was wearing braces. That’s all I can remember about how they looked. But I can remember their conversation. I can remember it word for word.

Sweatshirt: “Why didn’t you just answer the question?”
Braces: “Why should I have?”
Sweatshirt: “‘Cause you’re smart. That’s why she called on you.”
Braces: “I’m not smart. Why you have to say that about me?”

“Wow,” I thought. “Smart as an insult?”


Your Aunt Kelly told me once that she thought she scared off boys because she refused to pretend she was dumber than they were. “Most guys want to believe they’re smarter than the chicks that they’re dating — especially when they’re not,” she said.

Small wonder that all the sex icons seem to always be dumb girls. Today it’s Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson. When you get a bit older it will be some other skeleton-framed peroxide blonde whose bra size eclipses her I.Q.

And against all the encouragement you’ll get to act dumb — from friends, movies, music and potential dates — I don’t suppose there’s much I can say to convince you that you should never, ever do that.

Not for a boy. Not for a girl. Not for all the marbles in the whole wide world.


Forgive me a sappy love story. It won’t take long.

It was an early spring evening. Your mother was standing in the kitchen of the apartment I shared with two friends (one of whom she had just recently begun dating.) She was wearing a pink sweater and black pants. Her hair was pulled back away from her face. Her eyes, I noticed, were two different colors.

She was then, and remains to this day, the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. But that’s not what made me fall for her.

My roommate, her date, was running late. So we started talking. About classes. About art. About movies. About food.

She was thoughtful and well spoken. She was graceful and poised. And when she disagreed with something I said, she told me so.

She was exotically intelligent.


OK, the honest truth? Sometimes I am intimidated by your mother’s brains. Living with her is a daily reminder that I am not the smartest person in the world. Living with her is a daily reminder that I am not even the smartest person in our home.

But still, there’s nothing more beautiful in the world than an intelligent, independent and enlightened woman.

Nothing except, perhaps, an intelligent, independent and enlightened daughter?

I pray that one day I’ll know for sure.


Sunday, October 7, 2007


Dear Spike:

We took a drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon this afternoon. The canyon is beautiful at any time of year, but especially during this time, when the leaves are changing and the snow has frosted the trees.

About halfway up to the ski resorts, we bundled you up in the snowbear suit that you got from your friend Zoe and jumped out of the car to take a walk through a picnic area, next to a stream. Your mother and I have always enjoyed taking short daytrips, like this, but it has never been so fun as it was today with you. You marveled at the leaves, at the cold running water and at the snow (which fell from the branches above onto your face a couple of times) and as you did, we marveled at you.

When our friend Chunn came over for dinner, last week, we stumbled into an interesting discussion about what a shame it is that most of us don’t remember our first experience with snow. So too with so many of life’s other first pleasures — hugs from our grandparents, the changing colors of fall, the taste of our favorite fruits and vegetables.

Chunn — whose parents raised the first Buddhist temple in California’s Fresno Valley after immigrating here from Cambodia — thought about this for a moment and then said: “It would be good, then, if just we thought of everything as a first.”



Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Dear Spike:

We painted your room with elephants. Lots of elephants. We bought you an elephant lamp. We ordered elephant knobs for your dresser. We picked up a half-dozen elephant stuffed animals.

Our friend Sheena came back from India with a soapstone elephant, inside of which was meticulously carved...



... another elephant.

And when we go to the zoo? Who do you most want to see?

Yup, the giraffes.



Dear Spike:

A few years ago, with a honeymoon trip to Spain pending, your mother and I decided that we wouldn’t spend money on Christmas presents for one another. Instead, we agreed, we would simply make each other presents, setting a small limit on any purchased materials.

We’d really only done it to save money para museos en Madrid, hoteles en Toledo y tapas en Segovia, but the gifts we shared that Christmas were heartfelt, touching and sincere. And I think we realized that we’d done something rather special — if only accidentally.

As newlyweds, we didn’t have many holiday traditions of our own. And so we decided to start one: Each year, we make gifts for one another and donate as much as we can to a cause that had touched our lives, in some way, over the previous year.

I think it has really turned into a lovely tradition. A few years ago, we bought books for the children at a school I visited in the impoverished highlands of Ecuador. The following year, we paid rent for an Iraqi family that had been left homeless by the war. And last year we helped fund a schools project for girls in Afghanistan that was being organized by a close friend.

Meanwhile, I’ve received from your mother a handmade motorcycle tour book, a beautiful knit scarf and a lovely and fun cookbook full of recipes we enjoy making together — gifts that have been far more meaningful and important to me than anything she could have purchased at the mall.

Even before you were born, I had been contemplating what I would make you this Christmas. A few weeks after you arrived, I decided what it would be. And last month I began work on your gift.

I want it to be special, but it has been slow going. And the sight, this week, of snow on the mountains has left me feverish to move faster.

I know you won’t expect it to be perfect. And indeed, it is the imperfections of what we make by hand — what the Japanese call wabi-sabi — that makes our tradition so special to me.

Still, I want you to love it. And I’m working hard to make sure you will.


Monday, October 1, 2007


Dear Spike:

This morning marks my first day back to work since going on paternity leave, a month ago. It likely also marks the final day in which my various bosses will cut me slack for the fact that I have a new baby.

And so, at 7:39 a.m. this morning, I’m sitting down at my computer. You’re playing in your rain forest playpen.