Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dad's Awesome Birthday Song

I'll get back to chronicling Noah's birthday this weekend, but I thought you might enjoy "Dad's Awesome Birthday Song" (trademarked - Sam Granade).

I just appreciate that I'm rearing two little postminimalists.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reflections on a Father

Our pastor asked me to reflect on what I learned about love from my father for our service this morning, and after talking with my brother yesterday, I decided to share it here just as I did in church this morning:

Occasionally, but only occasionally, my brother Stephen and I would find ourselves in a situation where we were tired of doing an activity, didn’t want to start it in the first place, and certainly were loath to see it to completion. In those moments, my father could always be counted on to tell us to keep at it because it would “build character.” Perhaps you have heard this phrase in your lifetime too, and perhaps you feel about it the way Calvin did. You know Calvin – not the theologian from the 16th century, but the theologian from the 1990s funny pages. Calvin’s father came out one night and called “It’s getting dark, Calvin. Time to come in and go to bed.” Calvin ambled up and responded, “But Hobbes and I were catching fireflies. Can’t we stay out a little longer?” Always ready at teachable moments, Calvin’s dad responded, “Ha! First you didn’t want to go out, and now you don’t want to come in. See, by not watching TV, you had more fun, and now you’ll have memories of something real you did, instead of something fake you just watched.” Later in bed, Calvin confessed to Hobbes that “nothing spoils fun like finding out it builds character.”

Fathers can always be counted on to help us build character, which is why Joy regularly rolls her eyes and restrains herself when I parent by telling Sam or Noah to pick themselves up, shake off their tears, and have another go. A father’s tough love is a cultural cliché – walk down the Hallmark aisle in May, and you’ll be assaulted by pink and white frilliness that proclaims a mother’s tenderness while the next month, the same aisle is festooned in blue and brown straight lines that let us know that dad, by contrast, doesn’t appreciate that nonsense. But that tough guy formulation masks some of the greatest truths about love that we learn from our fathers.

Looking back, one important fatherly truth stands out to me from my own upbringing – love is never embarrassed. Perhaps all fathers have this propensity, but mine was uniquely gifted at embarrassment. Riding through my small Southern hometown in my dad’s blue Chevy Luv truck was an adventure, primarily because he was always on the lookout for treasure. Driving by a household pile of garbage, he’d slow down, his eyes would rifle through the pile, and he’d tell me or my brother to jump out and grab something. We would make sure no one was looking, dash out as quickly as possible, grab the object and toss it in the back, and slink back to our seats with our heads down. Can you imagine how a 13-year-old boy felt performing this ritual, just knowing that someone would see, tell their friends, who would tell your friends. Embarrassment knows no greater field to flourish than a 13-year-old boy’s heart.

I’ll also never forget how my father appeared at my wedding rehearsal and dinner decked out in the brightest yellow shirt you can possibly imagine. Small suns have less luminescence than he did that night. His reasoning was true to his life and training as an historian – Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (and even tiny Elizabeth) wore bright yellow as evidence of their extreme happiness when news of Catherine of Aragon’s death reached them. My father’s happiness certainly exceeded theirs and for better reason. I should have been mortified, but I wasn’t. A strange thing had happened in the ten years between those occurrences. The lesson my father had been nurturing had sunk in. Turn to the person next to you – your spouse, child, or dear friend. Think of all the things they have done over the years that made you cringe and shake your head. But you’re still here. You still love them. You see, love is never embarrassed because love is accepting. Love sees the other as they truly are, as a unique child of God whose life enriches your own beyond all understanding. Picking up trash, wearing yellow, proclaiming to the world that he is who he is was the greatest act of love my father performed toward me. He gave me permission to be myself, to love others for themselves, and to see a penetrating glimpse of God’s love in the process. And it is that treasure, more than any we picked up through those many Arkansas days, which encapsulates what is unique about a father’s love. It is a gift of love that truly builds lasting character.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Noah's Elmo Cake

Noah's second birthday was last Friday, and after a week of celebrating, I think I've finally recovered enough to begin to share a bit of the festivities here. Joy and I are still in a state of denial that Noah's now two years old, but his increasing moodiness and tantrums are helping reality quickly set in.

Noah is current obsessed with Elmo - he sings the Elmo's World theme song all the time, sleeps with a stuffed Elmo, and will stop any forward motion when he glimpses a bit of the red monster. So I decided an Elmo cake was necessary for his birthday.
The problem is that while there is an Elmo cake pan, I didn't want to spend the $12 for a pan I'd use one time (unless Joy decided she wanted Elmo for her birthday...). So I invented my own solution.

Using Misty's fabulous chocolate cake recipe (which she rightly claims is the best chocolate cake recipe in the world), I made two round 9 inch cakes. After they cooled, I carefully cut around the top of one cake to make Elmo's googly eyes and then took part of the leftover cake and stuck it on the bottom of the other. I then mixed up some buttercream icing and set to work with the food coloring. The fully intact cake I frosted plain white and then used a dessert decorator with the round tip to pipe a bit of blue icing as an outline before writing "Happy Birthday Noah!" across its length. Sam helped drop sprinkles on it (as well as write "Noah") and we called that second cake a balloon. For the Elmo cake, I frosted the eyes with plain white and put two black jelly beans for eyes (the black are Sam's favorite - go figure). I mixed a bit of red and yellow to make an orange nose (which Sam loved doing almost as much as eating the left over icing). Then, after using almost half a bottle of red dye, I used the round tip again to pull short lines of icing together to make the top look like fur. It came out pretty well:After blowing out candles with Noah, I cut into the balloon thinking he'd like to save the Elmo part. I was wrong. Noah screamed and cried to eat Elmo first. He loves Elmo so much he truly wants to eat him up.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Short Takes

On Saturday, we spent the afternoon at Old Shawnee Days, a fair a neighboring town throws the first weekend after Memorial Day every year. It has what you might expect - a Ferris Wheel and rides best described as death traps, performers of all stripes from musicians to mentalists to a bullwhip comedian, and lots of fried food. Sam and Noah had a good time wandering around, but Sam especially enjoyed getting all the free stuff. Like new hair:When we got home, we had breakfast for supper. We put Noah's omelet in front of him. he peeled back the egg to gaze as the mushrooms and tomatoes and cheese inside and declared "Wow!" It was the best reaction my cooking has ever gotten.

Sam has a new favorite joke that he'll gladly tell you: "What's the pretzel's favorite dance?" "The Twist!"

Noah has completely figured out the word "hello." Any time I walk in the room, he shouts, "Hello, Dada!" But he also wants us to say "hello" to everyone and everything, leading to interesting dinner conversations, where we say "hello" to every bit of food he puts in his mouth - "hello mushroom!" "hello tomato!" "hello dried up Cheerio you found on the floor!"

Thursday, June 3, 2010

We're Full of Water

After the great family room flooding of the past few years, I doubted I would have so much water in my life a mere year later. But with Sam starting swim lessons, we're up to our ears in water these days.

Sam is loving his swim lessons. He goes twice a week right now and will go every day for four days in the next session at month's end. Although he still has trouble sitting still in the pool, he's learning quickly. At his last lesson, he was messing with his goggles and accidentally stepped backwards off the step and into the pool. He valiantly dog paddled and managed to almost keep afloat until the teacher rescued him, but his face was under water. He didn't panic, however, and seems to have found new confidence in his swimming. The lessons and the teacher are hard core and great and once Sam is comfortable putting his face in the water, he'll be swimming.

Noah, of course, wants to do everything Sam does, but has more hesitations. Joy's parents were here this past weekend to celebrate Noah's 2nd birthday a bit early. We decided to try out a local pool that has a playground in the water, a small wave pool, and a few bigger slides along with the pool itself. Sam loved the pool and the water guns and getting splashed; Noah was uncertain at first. He sat next to Nana and Joy and me at the water's edge until we found some small fountains he could splash in. Although he never warmed to the water slides, he did float like crazy in the water - he's much more relaxed than Sam and so finds it easier to let go and let the water take him.

This is the kind of water I can handle in the summer - let's hope it continues to stay in the pool and out of our family room.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Thoughts on Composing and Computers

This past month I've spent more than my fair share of time staring at a computer. My tenure and promotion portfolio has consumed my life as I've pdf'ed every document I needed and created a massive electronic compendium of the past five years (and yes, I know "pdf'ed"is not a word, but it has as great ring I needed in that sentence). During that time, two links came my way that got me thinking about the use of computers and composition. First, this article in Slate by Chris Wilson profiles a computer program that is composing based on analysis of other words in the classical canon. Then, this video of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring performed by the Vienna Symphonic Library (in other words, but sampled sounds rather than live performers:

I've some thoughts on these developments, but was curious as to your initial reactions.