Hive architect

My daughter is obsessed with designing houses, architecturally. I love it, but there’s room for logic of any kind improvement.



  • Natural light? This architect is not a fan.
  • Panic Room on an outside wall = security problem!
  • Somewhat uneven distribution of Fire Escapes (and it’s a one-story house).
  • Garage in the middle of the house is accessed via an “underground tube”.
  • The house has its own Bank, which is not to be confused with the Treasure Room.
  • Girl Cave!
  • Two Art Rooms, presumably in case one is filled with terrible ideas.
  • No Kitchen, but it does have a Bakery, Sweet Room, and Ice Cream Room. UPDATE: I missed the kitchen. It’s there!

Click image for larger version.


It’s a feel-good family post. So deal with it.

Seasons Greetings, all! Got some homegrown Christmas tunes for you.

The first is Nathan in the annual Alphonsus Academy Holiday Concert. He was selected as a soloist for the second grade’s rendition “Silent Night” and he did it masterfully.

The only problem is that the audio levels were way off in the church. The piano is much too loud. (I have tried to EQ it down a bit.) Nathan kicks it solo style around 1:10. “All is calm” and “SleeeEEEEeeeep in heavenly peace” rather pegs it as him.

Nathan Tolva and Mrs. Durkin’s Second Grade Class, AACA

Next up is an impromptu family sing-a-long. Robyn and I heard Charlotte “singing” Feliz Navidad from her bed (behind a closed door) so we crept up and started recording. When her verse ended I piped up from the hallway, which caused her brothers to join in from behind their closed door. Recording continued, hilarity ensued.

You’ll have to turn up the volume pretty high, at least at the beginning. Note how at one point Charlotte asks herself “How do you say [unintelligible] in Spanish?” Pardon the muffled giggling from Robyn and I. And enjoy the remix with Señor Feliciano.

“Feliz Navidad”, The Tolva Family

And yes, I did just put an audio recording of me impersonating a horn section stab on the open Internet.

Merry Christmas!

How to enjoy a night in the wilderness, in 7 easy steps

(1) Create a packing list


(2) Pick a scenic spot

(3) Set up tent before nightfall (and hope the waters don’t rise)


(4) Listen to the nighttime bestiary come alive and supplement with scary stories


(5) Lay down, look up, and let your handheld astronomy app tell you what you’re observing


(6) Sleep well, wake up in the mist


(7) Celebrate!


An African Abecedarium

My son and I have finally finished a project that grew out of my photos from Africa this summer. It’s an abecedarium, a primer for learning one’s letters, using photos from Ghana and Kenya to illustrate.

Click here for a larger version of the slideshow or just watch below. The pages themselves are fairly liberally licensed, so feel free to make of them what you like.

(You know, there really aren’t many words in English that start with “x” and that weren’t coined by ad agencies desperate to seem hip.)


My earliest memory of television is also my scariest. I was born in 1972. Land of the Lost aired on Saturday mornings from 1974 to 1976. It was a remarkable program for the time — dark for its time slot, ambitious effects, multi-episode story arcs — I’ve later learned. But back then I knew only this: the Sleestak scared me to death.


A Sleestak is a cave-dwelling humanoid lizardish creature forever threatening the three hapless humans on the show. Peeling back a few layers of psychological scar tissue I seem to recall that they only ever hissed, though I may simply be unable to remember anything else. (Tell me you wouldn’t crap yourself as a four-year-old hearing that. What were my parents thinking letting me watch this show?)

It’s funny how deeply fear etches. Thinking back on this traumatic formative period of my life I also recall a restaurant my parents used to take us to. I remember two things. First it was like 100 miles away (Oak Brook to Naperville for you Chicago area folks) and second that a Sleestak lived there.

It was a dark restaurant, themed like a old west mining operation. Lots of antique excavation and railway equipment decorating the walls. On a shelf in the corner was an old railroad signal lantern. It looked something like this.


Obviously, obviously, I could look at nothing else. In the cave-like dark this thing looked exactly like the bulbous eyes of a Sleestak peering down on me and my roast beef au jus. In fact I can’t eat a beef dip to this day without hearing a creepy hissing in my head.

Apparently there is a movie adaptation in the works. Have to take my kids to that. Nothing says family bonding like shared childhood terror.

Left on my desk with a note from wife: “This should make you proud”

Yes, my love, it certainly does.

By Nathan, Age 6.

This might be just the thing I need to launch my career as a parenting coach.

UPDATE: After extensive, scholarly analysis of the artwork it has been determined that the speech balloon does not saw “Eww” but rather “Flower”. An interesting development as it suggests that the whole thing was either (a) a depiction of frolicking in the garden or (b) my son thinks his socks smell like flora.

UPDATE 2: reCAPTCHA lookout. This just gave me a great idea. Is it human or is it a six-year-old?

Chess with verve

Over the holidays my six-year-old son discovered chess. He picked up the basic piece movements remarkably fast and soon became fixated on special moves like castling, en passant, and pawn promotion. So much so that in some early games performing those moves became his sole motivation.

But the best thing about playing chess with my kid is that it is an un-self-consciously emotional affair. He jumps around, screams at the board, and covers his eyes after he makes a questionable move. This is the way chess should be played. Forget about that computer and the four hour matches. Let’s spice it up with name-calling, body-checking, and post-game emotional meltdowns!

Reminds me of that classic SNL skit with Jim Belushi as a high school chess coach in the style of Bobby Knight. “You call that castling?! Come on! Why don’t you just give him the king?! Give it to him!” (Transcript.)

Isn’t there some sport that involves playing a few moves of chess then boxing or something?

Undead Yuletide

Last Saturday my six-year-old asked me about the relationship between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus. I said, too quickly, that they were the same person. My son then informed that he learned in school that St. Nick died a long time ago. As I contemplated my options at this conversational juncture, he asked matter-of-factly, “Is Santa a zombie?”

It took every shred of self-restraint not to run with that.

Then, Sunday we encountered the same problem as last year: too many Clauses around to suspend disbelief. I maintain that you cannot call someone who dresses like Santa “Santa’s Helper.” That’s just silly — and it is what elves are anyway. Either you say it is Santa Claus or you say it is someone dressed like Santa Claus. Or now … that it is one of Santa’s dead relatives back from the grave. Now quit being naughty or he’ll feast on your brains!

Three favorite quotes from this past week

Last night, as my wife was pulling into the garage with my kids, a friend who had come home with them looked at my workbench tools and said:

“I didn’t know your dad made stuff.”

Nathan said, “Yeah, he does.”

“Does he make toys?”

“No, my dad makes music. Like mixtures. For his friends.”

Well said! Keep that up and you’ll inherit everything.

On the other side of the spectrum comes this trenchant insight from a good ol’ boy down on the Texas coast. I overheard him explain:

“Y’see, hurricanes are kinda like NASCAR wrecks. If you see a car crash ahead of you you gotta head towards it, ’cause it ain’t gonna be there when you get to it. Same with hurricanes. I always drive straight towards ’em.”

Now, I’m no meteorologist (much less a racecar driver), but something about this analogy fails to convince. Though it does have a pleasingly Darwin Awards flavor to it. Yes, Bubba, you drive straight for that storm.

And lastly, Larry the fishing guide (who you may recall) joined us last week for our annual menfolk fishing expedition. As we were casting the little “piggy” perch on our lines he explained that as soon as they hit the water you had to jerk real fast. This seemed odd until he explained:

“You gotta piss off the bait. Make it mad, so it does what you want it to do.”

Yes, you must bitch-slap your bait so that it makes croaking noises that attract other fish. I thought this was rather brilliant, but it still seemed odd. I mean, wouldn’t you think that hurling the bait through the air 50 feet before it smacks down on to the water would sufficiently piss it off? Still, a lovely quote, especially if you say it with an immense, syrupy drawl.