December 2008


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We spent Christmas 2008 in the Washington, D.C. area with Chris’ family.  This was the first time we had the entire new family together: Kathy met Everett, Chris and Melissa met Connor, Everett met his cousins.  It was a great holiday visiting with family and friends.  And thanks to our layover in Cincinnati on the way back, and to Amanda and Cress for driving to the airport, Everett was able to see all of his grandparents in a single trip!  Photos of the trip are here.

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Christmas (and Birthday!)

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Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas to each of you and your families.  And Happy Birthday Sean!

Chris, Melissa & Everett

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Parenthood cures modesty, or at least lowers your internal threshold for what constitutes normal public behavior.  The process of giving birth is the first big plunge.  If you are in a hospital then as soon as you are admitted you get accustomed to lots of people coming and going from your room.  And as the delivery draws near, two things happen.  First, the number of people gathered in the room increases to an almost implausible level.  No wonder delivery rooms are so large!  Second, the mother to be is more and more exposed until finally all pretenses are gone.  At least that’s how it was for us.  It turns that the process of sleep deprivation and exposure during delivery turned out to be good preparation for parenthood.

Since Everett was born I have been entertaining a hypothesis that babies emit some kind of mind control pheromones.  The primary evidence for this is that Melissa and I continue to do all sorts of goofy things in public to make him happy, no matter how much sleep we lose on his behalf or how long we need to console him for idiopathic crying.  This effect appears to get stronger as he becomes more interactive and playful.  Over Thanksgiving he was pretty sick with a cold and ear infections and a few other problems that I won’t go into for HIPAA reasons, which has had two effects.  First, both of his parents also got sick and therefore needed more sleep than normal.  Second, because of his illness, the sleep schedule that everyone worked to so hard to establish with him was shot to hell, which caused his parents to get even less sleep than normal.  Despite this, we found that we would still do almost anything to get him to smile in the morning.

One of our favorite local restaurants is called the Chancery, where they serve all kinds of Wisconsin specialties that are so bad and yet so good, like fried cheese curds or a cheeseburger with a half pound of kielbasa on top (the “Stomp Burger”).  It is sort of a pub, but prides itself on being family friendly, and their accommodating attitude toward children makes us like it even more.  Anyway, they sell a t-shirt that says “You don’t scare me, I have kids”.  This is beginning to make more sense.  The loss of control that comes with bringing another person into the world has changed our opinion on what is considered unusual behavior.  For example, the duck that was wedged into Melissa’s bra when I returned home from work a few nights ago was not considered unusual enough to warrant questions or comments.  Grandad Cress, the father of two children himself, recently donned a homemade aluminum foil helmet for Everett’s amusement.  For my part, I never imagined that I would walk through the grocery store making exaggerated faces and speaking gibberish to my six month old son, all with a frightening lack of awareness that I am in public.  Or that Melissa and I would stand in the airport discussing poop and pee, periodically lifting Everett’s behind to our noses to provide a more accurate diagnosis.  I feel confident that none of this is surprising to experienced parents.  But it is an incredibly large and abrupt change compared to our pre-parent state, and has pushed us to realize what is surely self evident to most parents: you will see each other in completely new ways, both literally and figuratively.  The mind-control pheromones seem to be doing their job.

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Loose Ends

I’d like to use this blog entry to clean up some loose ends, none of which seem to fit anywhere else.

First, in one previous blog entry I followed Dr. Horch’s advice when reporting results: “write what you observe.”  And at the time I had only ever observed men with snowblowers, but this morning I saw evidence to the contrary, so I’d like to amend my previous entry.  However, the women I saw did not display quite the same giddy excitement about it as the men.

On a related subject, last Thursday night we had our first really big storm of the season.  Local news stations correctly forecasted it for days, and this provided plenty of time for fear and anxiety to grow disproportionately to the actual size of the storm.  At Chris’ work they started canceling seminars scheduled for Thursday afternoon, even though it was sunny and snow was not predicted until early Friday morning!  Anyway, on Friday they had continuous live coverage of the storm for several hours, during which they had reporters all over the city, each providing some variation of: “Um…it’s still snowing”.  These in depth reports were interspersed with listings of all the essential services that were closed due to the storm, including Kochanski’s Beer Hall, which was reported at 9 o’clock in the morning!  Apparently they take beer seriously here.


Melissa recently bought a hat for Everett which has the tag shown above affixed to it, which we did not make up.  Maybe the hat is made for infants of some other species?
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In one previous blog entry I asked if there are any teams with cows as mascots.  Well Melissa’s parents are both from Texas, and Amanda pointed out that the Texas Longhorns have a steer as a mascot.  Despite the fact that my paternal grandparents are lifelong farmers, and despite more years of education than I care to remember, I still do not know answers to basic agricultural questions such as: how many cobs grow on a single corn stalk?  I thought 5 or 6, but it turns out the answer is 1.  Or: what is a steer and how is this different from a cow or a bull?  Please don’t tell Gramsy and Grandpa that we did not know the answers to these questions.  Anyway, the Texas Longhorns’ mascot is a castrated bull.  I am not sure why they chose a steer over a bull, and I’m willing to bet they don’t mention castration very often in their team cheers, but I will say that Longhorns have a much more imposing presence than other cows I have seen.  Beyond that, a lot has been written about the almost mythical abilities of this species.  But I think we have to keep in mind that most of this was written by Texans, who as a group have been known to spin a jingoistic yarn about a few things.

Lastly, we have been told by many people to write things down when they happen with Everett or they will be forgotten.  In this spirit I’d like to record the following behavior which he has since moved on from.  When he was young (younger than 6 months anyway) and he was finished nursing he would abruptly push himself off Melissa’s breast, roll over onto his back and throw both arms up over his head, as if to say “Aaaaaaaaaaand…I’m out!”.  It was hilarious to watch and I wish we had a picture of it.

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Everett has developed a busy social schedule for someone who is only 6 months old.  He has several standing engagements each week, along with several special ones now that the holidays are approaching.  His latest appearance was at a neighborhood party last weekend at the local ice skating rink, which also happens to be home to the Wauwatosa Curling Club (as an aside, curling could be Chris’ last chance to get into the Olympics, but this will be left for a future blog entry).  Part of his busy schedule is because there are many families on the block with young children.  But the real reason is that our new neighbors on Kavanaugh Place are an extremely social group of people with a tradition of community get togethers that was going strong by the time we arrived.  One recent get together made the national news.  It turns out that our neighbor Dan Johnson decided to fulfill a promise he made 32 years ago and have a pie fight with a friend from high school.  Others before me have described this in much more detail, so I will leave you with Jim Stengl’s story in the Journal Sentinel and the CBS News video below.

Watch CBS Videos Online

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When I was young I noticed that the acoustics in our house changed after a snowstorm.  I think the snow dampened a lot of the ambient noise from outside, and this was usually my first clue that I might get the day off school.  Snow changes the acoustics at our new home as well, but in a different way.  The morning after a snowstorm we usually awaken to the gentle rumbling of snowblowers, small gas-powered carts with rotating monster teeth that are used to move snow into your neighbors yard.  Not that I am complaining.  By the time I am out of bed and have had a cup of coffee, the sidewalk in front of our house has usually been cleared by neighbors.  This week we had the first big snow of the year and someone had cleared the sidewalk of our entire street, end to end.  My guess is that because winter just started, the men have been apart from their snowblowers for a while (for whatever reason, I have only observed snowblowers being operated by men; please correct me if you have evidence to the contrary) and they are eager to be reunited.  Maybe they are practicing to get their technique back, maybe they enjoy the meditative state induced by blasting large amounts of snow and ice into the sky, or maybe they are just darn nice people.  Whatever the reason, Wisconsinites love snowblowers as much as they love to tell you how bad the winters are here.  The subtext of these comments goes something like this: “You’re new here, and until you have proven yourself by making it through one of our winters, we’re not going to get too attached.”  The first few times I heard this I made the mistake of mentioning that we just moved from Cleveland, a city that gets far more snow than these parts, and we shoveled our snow there.  One time I also mentioned that there is an entire country north of here and I’m pretty sure their winters are worse than ours, though they are much too polite to make a fuss about it.  But I stopped doing this after I recalled that the news in the Midwest is really just window dressing for the weather report – it is one thing that provides solidarity among the locals.  At least that’s what was reported in the book “How To Speak Minnesotan”, and in Wisconsin we speak something that is similar but definitely distinct.  I can do a decent job of mimicking the Minnesota accent, but I have to admit the Wisconsin accent it pretty hard to nail down.  It is a bit more nasal, and our long “ooooos” aren’t quite as deep, and we don’t go around saying “you bet” or “you betcha”.  Thankfully, soft drinks are called by their correct name “soda”; you have to cross the western border before they become “pop”.  I know this firsthand from visiting family in Iowa and Minnesota throughout my life and enjoying my share of orange or root beer floats.  Everett does not yet have a detectable accent, and because he has been visiting his grandparents for the past week has not been exposed to the snow yet, but we will keep everyone posted on his accent and interest in snow machines.

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Ferocious Rodents

We now live in the land of ferocious rodents, at least judging from the Midwestern mascots that surround us: groundhogs, raccoons, gophers, wolverines, badgers.  Our home is in the Badger State, mostly referring to the University of Wisconsin football team, an association that is now so engrained that on the occasions when I have asked locals if they have ever seen a badger they assume I mean a Badger, and reply that they’ve been to a few games (if you would like to see a badger then look closely at the coat of arms on our state flag,  Among these rodents, the general consensus is that the wolverine is the most ferocious (go Blue), however this has been perpetuated largely by Michigan fans who have never met the Wisconsin hodag (see photo above).  This is an animal that was originally captured by settlers over 100 years ago.  It has the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.  It has been described as the “fiercest, strangest, most frightening monster ever to set razor sharp claws on the earth” and is the mascot for Rhinelander High School in northern Wisconsin.  It was first described by Native Americans, who have shaped Wisconsin culture in many other ways as well, particularly the city names.  Milwaukee has its origins in a Native American name, as those of you who saw Wayne’s World learned from Alice Cooper, as do Oconomowoc, Mukwonago and many other towns nearby.  One sure sign that you live here is that you can pronounce these names without hesitating.  Another sign is that you know that the last workday of every week is fish fry Friday, a tradition that is attributed to the large Catholic population and that spilled over from Lent into the rest of the year.  Or that you know how to polka (our official dance); if you want to square dance then you will have to travel south to Illinois.  Lastly, you know our state motto, “Forward”, which could be an attempt to differentiate us from our Midwestern neighbors.  For example, in past blog entries I mentioned that our official state beverage is milk, which has been true since the 1980s.  About 20 years later our neighbors in Minnesota chose the same official state beverage.  I’m sure they were considering this long before we ever thought of it, but being the careful and measured people that they are (except when elections are involved), didn’t want to rush into anything.  With all of the local emphasis on dairy I am surprised that no one, to my knowledge, has adopted the cow as their team mascot.  They aren’t as ferocious as rodents but they certainly have a more imposing presence.  If anyone knows of a team with a ruminant mascot then please let me know.

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