Friday, January 30, 2009

Oh, Those Fiesty Librarians

This morning, I read an article in the Kansas City Star about the impending Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act which goes into effect on February 10. The act requires testing of all children's products for lead, including books.

That's right, libraries would be responsible for making sure their children's books do not contain lead, and most don't have the resources available to test books. As a result, libraries may have to pull children's books from their shelves unless the Consumer Product Safety Commission exempts them.

My favorite part of the entire article pointed to the reason this story was even on the front page of the newspaper. When the paper interviewed Crosby Kemper III, CEO of Kansas City Public Libraries, about the reaction to the law, he remarked:

"Librarians turn out to be a pretty feisty group."

Makes me think he'd never been around librarians before. I've known that since I was six years old.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Might As Well Admit it He's Addicted to Thomas

With the "train tracks of peace," you might get the idea that my son is slightly addicted to Thomas.

You have no idea.

Every Monday, Sam goes to Parents Day Out. And every Monday afternoon, he returns home with a sheet detailing what and how he did that day. Usually the messages are benign: "Sam had a good day today," or "Sam enjoyed playing outside on the slide today." Monday's message? "We're trying to help Sam play with things other than the train table." That's right, he's so single minded about Thomas that even his teachers who seem him once a week want to help him learn to play with other toys.

Not to say that Sam only plays with trains. He really doesn't. He has cars and trucks, blocks and legos, books and musical instruments that he plays with all the time. They just don't see the every day play of Thomas.

Just an example of our Thomas attraction: This past week, Sam has taken to calling me Edward and wants to be called Henry and for most of this week has chosen to wear a green shirt as a result. So I'll come home in the evenings not to "Dad's home," but instead, "Edward, I love you!" I'm still not sure what to make of that one.

In any case, Sam does have a small Thomas thing going right now. In fact, I caught this picture of him the other night that pretty much sums up our life right now:That's right. That's Sam in the dark looking at his Thomas catalog by the light of a Thomas flashlight. It doesn't get much more Thomas crazy than that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Train Tracks of Peace

In church on Sunday, our pastor preached on peace. Turns out that she and other leaders in the denomination have been invited to Rome, Italy in a few weeks to attend a conference dealing with the theological dimensions of peace. As part of her presentation, she wanted to take pictures draw by the children in our church that represented what peace meant to them. So, for the children's story, Sam's Sunday School teacher read a book on peace and then marched all the kids upstairs to draw their pictures.

During the offering, the children marched back in with their drawings to present them to the church and to God. When Joy and I saw Sam march in with a Thomas train in his hands we knew what might be up and when we glimpsed his picture (which featured what were certainly a set of rails), Joy leaned over to me and whispered, "Looks like Sam drew the train tracks of peace."

We didn't know the half of it.

During the luncheon that followed church, all the pictures were on display, so we went by to peruse them. There was the five-year-old's tree where she went to read and watch the clouds, there was the four-year-old's new puppy. There was the forcefield protecting the intergalactic spaceship, and there was the garbage truck. Yes, in addition to drawing the Thomas the Train of peace, Sam drew the garbage truck of peace as well.

I suppose his drawing has a certain logic. A world where garbage is always picked up is certainly a world at peace. But I think Sam just wanted to draw a big garbage truck and so he did. an next month, the picture will be hanging in Rome.

It's a better debut than any of my pictures ever had.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Christmas Photos - Finally

At long last I've gotten the photos from the past month off my camera and onto my new external hard drive (I knew I'd eventually get around to changing my computer with all the new toys I got for it). So here is Christmas 2008. Click on the picture to enjoy the set!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Few More Inaugural Thoughts

The other day, I commented on the work John Williams composed for President Obama's Inauguration. Then, yesterday evening, I discover that we didn't really hear them play, at least not live. Two days before the event, the quartet recorded their parts for broadcast. It was an "in case of" recording and turns out that the in case of was extreme cold. Here I was marveling at their ability to play in tune when it was cold enough that brass players were using plastic mouth pieces and Yo-Yo Ma was using carbon fiber cello. Turns out that the Presidents, past, present, and future, along with their guests heard the quartet play live, but everyone else heard a recording.

And those people? Those 2 million or so? Here are some amazing shots of the Mall on Inauguration Day for your Friday amusement. Notice how the crowds are grouped together - one guess as to where all the JumboTrons were.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wham! Bang! Bump! Kapow!

Over the past month, Sam has become obsessed with words. He's figured out that combinations of letters symbolize things in the real world and so wants to know what every word he has daily contact with is. What does this mean to our life? It means that in the morning when he helps me pour his apple juice, we have to stop and I have to tell him every word on the bottle. It means that as we're leaving the grocery store, he pulls back, rears his head up, and asks about the "Exit" sign, pointing to every letter and spelling "E-X-I-T" over and over again. It means that when we read a book, we have to go through each page of front matter to get to the main story (although, thankfully, he's satisfied with my explanation of "that's the copyright information" so we don't have to read every ISBN and LOC line of small print).

After going through this ritual for a month, he's memorized numerous words that float throughout his life. And typical of Sam, most of those words deal with trains and cars and buses. He has a placemat with all sorts of vehicles on it and around the outside edge are words like "crash" and "screech" and "wham." Wouldn't you know it, Sam knows those words but still has no clue when it comes to words like "the."

I predict he'll have a healthy future as a comic book writer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Confluence of Inaugural Musical Events

Like many of you, Joy and I watched yesterday's inaugural events with a profound sense of the moment's history. But there were some associations that the event triggered in my mind that I knew would not be in most minds. As Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Itzhak Perlman on violin, Gabriela Montero on piano, and Anthony McGill on clarinet performed John Williams's "Air and Simple Gifts," my mind flashed with associations of past inaugurals.

New compositions and inaugurations have a twisted history. Just think back to Richard Nixon's second inauguration, when Vincent Persichetti was commissioned by the Inaugural Committee to write a work for the Inaugural Concert on January 19, 1973. Persichetti carefully chose excerpts from Abraham Lincoln's second Inaugural Address and set them in a work titled "A Lincoln Address." Sounds safe enough. The problem? Persichetti included Lincoln's description of the Civil War as a ''mighty scourge,'' words that the Inaugural Committee felt would be applied to the Vietnam War if the work was played. Out goes "A Lincoln Address" from its scheduled premiere. It wasn't played until the end of that month when the St. Louis Symphony performed it.

That bit of history flashed into my head because of Obama's use of the Lincoln Bible, but Williams's obvious homage to the greatest use of the tune "Simple Gifts" brought an even more pivotal moment to mind. Passages of "Air and Simple Gifts" echoed Aaron Copland's use of the tune in Appalachian Spring, and Copland himself had an awkward history with inaugurations and Lincoln. In early 1953, Copland's A Lincoln Portrait, which also set words from our 16th president, was slated for Eisenhower's Inaugural Concert. But two days before the concert, Congressman Fred Busbey of Illinois successfully lobbied to have the work removed from the concert because, as he said, "The Republican Party would have been ridiculed from one end of the United States to the other if Copland's music had been played at the inaugural of a president elected to fight Communism." That's right, fear that Copland was a Communist (charges he was cleared of in May of that year) led to the removal of a piece celebrating America's freedoms.

With Obama having that a piece played with those overtones at an Inaugural that so prominently featured Lincoln gave me as much hope for our country as anything else. And so, for your enjoyment, here is a short clip of our new president delivering the narration for Copland's Lincoln Portrait:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Small Things

With Noah on the move now, Joy and I have been reminded of a special talent babies have when they gain control of where they are in their world. This talent is a corollary to their ability to go directly for what you don't want them exploring, no matter the number of toys and distractions you put in their way. It is the talent to find the smallest (often most disgusting) speck of nothingness on the floor and examine it intently.

When we put Noah on the floor now, he scans the room and looks for the bit of fuzz, the corner of a sticker that Sam dropped, the morsel of Rice Chex that stuck to a shoe and migrated from the kitchen. Once his object is in sight, nothing can stop him from picking it up, licking it, or shoving it full bore into his mouth. What is most amazing about this talent is that he finds things we've overlooked, things we would have never seen.

This talent seems to continue on for a few years after it is first developed. Sam, for instance, still shows flashes of this ability. For his last birthday, Joy and I got him a new Thomas playset. All Thomas playsets come with a Thomas train figure, and since this was the second we'd given him, Sam now had two Thomases. We quickly discovered that he abandoned the first Thomas (the one that had been his boon companion for several months) in favor of the new one. We couldn't figure out this behavior until the week before Christmas. We were packing trains to take on our Christmas trip when I casually asked Sam why he preferred the new Thomas. He looked at me as though I were crazy or at least a bit slow, pointed to the old Thomas, and said:

"That Thomas has no eyebrows."

He was right. By some manufacturing fluke, his first Thomas was missing the tiny little lines over his eyes and he had spotted it.

If this talent keeps up I'm totally taking them to the beach and see if they can spot dropped money.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's Crawl Time

The week before Christmas, Noah began getting up on all fours for a short period of time.

The week of Christmas, he stayed up on all fours long enough to rock back and forth and scoot backwards a few inches.

The week after Christmas, he coordinated the foot on one side of his body with the arm on the other and took one, maybe two steps.

Now, the week after the week after Christmas, look where we are:

At this rate, he'll be running by Valentine's Day.

This new development has caused great consternation at our house. In the video, Sam looks enthusiastic, singing the "Tractor, Tractor" song and crawling along. In truth, Noah now makes a beeline for Sam's trains every moment he's on the floor. You can imagine how that goes over around here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

What I've Been Doing

Since I'm out of school until Monday, I've been filling my days away from the computer, doing household-type things like transforming this:into this:
For Christmas, I made Joy and banquette for our kitchen, complete with new tabletop and two benches with storage inside. There are no pillows yet (that's Joy's domain) but we've been using and loving it today. Sam especially likes to say "banquette" and does so at the slightest provocation.

More details on how and what I did coming soon.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Last night, I was out at bedtime, so Joy had to put both boys to bed by herself, something she's not had to do in over a month, what with me off from school and our being surrounded by relatives for the past two weeks. Over the course of that month, Noah's become more aware, causing him to want to be up and about instead of sleeping. That means it takes a little longer sometimes to put him to sleep at night. Last night was one of those nights.

Usually, Sam plays with trains in his room contentedly while Joy puts Noah to sleep. But last night, Joy heard a strange crash in the kitchen while she was patting Noah in his bed. Noah wasn't cooperating, so she scooped him up and ran down to the kitchen.

I don't know what Joy expected to find, but I'm sure nothing could have prepared her for the sight of Sam standing in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by and covered with broken eggs. He looked up at her when she entered, gave her his best smile, and declared:

"I'm making yummy pancakes for breakfast!"

Joy, caught between anger and laughter (a common emotional quandary at our house), didn't respond, so Sam tried one more angle:

"Eggs make a yummy breakfast!"

Unable to deal with a baby fighting sleep and a three year old making breakfast, Joy told Sam to stand on the foam puzzle he had brought down (and that was covered in egg goo) and not move until she got back. Miraculously, he did just that until she could come back and clean him up.

And as a public service announcement for the story, we learned that egg shells will make it all the way through the wash, into the dryer, and ultimately end up on the lint screen. Who knew?