March 2009

Cleveland Crawl

This week we travelled to Cleveland and noted two accomplishments:

1. For the first time we travelled as a family with no checked bags, which feels like a significant accomplishment with a baby.

2. After much consternation, Melissa successfully delivered her dissertation proposal.  No revisions!

While we were in town we stayed with Marcy and Walter and their son Augie who is a little older than Everett.  It was a short but great trip.  Marcy and Walter were wonderful hosts and feted us with a dinner table full of friends both nights we were in town.  Augie crawls and pulls himself to his feet, and perhaps this motivated Everett to give some new things a try, which we first observed at the Cleveland airport while waiting for our flight home (see video below).  Everett’s attitude about crawling until now has been…unhurried.  He has been rolling for quite a while, and lately has taken a lot of interest in standing.  This time we observed him kick, spin, get up on his hands and knees, and finally scoot across the floor.

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Melissa’s and my grandparents have been a huge source of guidance and support while growing up, and over the years we accumulated a lot of memories about each of them.  Melissa’s paternal grandparents used to live in Texas and then Arizona. They always had tiny ice cream cups with wooden spoons in their upstairs freezer for the kids.  Grandpa was a rock hound; he and Melissa used to fight over eating the fried fish tails.  Nanny made fudge and Christmas ornaments for the grandkids every year, which might be why Melissa now enjoys getting a new ornament each time we travel, then recounting stories about our trips when we put them on the tree.  Mimi and Grandaddy also lived in Texas.  He would usually grill food during the family visits, and would give “sample meat” to the kids, a term that persists to this day in the Barber household.  He would also take them to “the river”, which is either a snake infested shack or a refuge from life in the city, depending on who you talk to.  Mimi liked to play poker and loved to play bridge.  She also made lemon pies with the kids and always left just a little bit of eagle brand sweetened condensed milk in the can for them to eat.  She was with us until December, 2007 and was able to meet Everett in utero before she passed away.

Next week we are taking Everett to meet Chris’ paternal grandparents in Houston.  They lived in Iowa for most of their lives before retiring in Texas several years ago.  Chris and Sean used to visit them on the farm almost every year while growing up, sometimes during summer and sometimes during winter.  Gramsy introduced us to all kinds of Midwestern treats like hamballs, rootbeer floats and hot dish.  She is a historian, a genealogist and a former schoolteacher;  from time to time she would take us along on historical tours or share with us the history of our family.  Grandpa accumulated quite a few toys as a farmer, the kind that we really didn’t get to experience while growing up in Bethesda but couldn’t get enough of during our visits: tractors, ATVs, motorcycles, Bobcats and snowmobiles (11 of them!).  Chris’ maternal grandmother Jodi Donnelly was with us until 2000; I can still hear her voice, and I can still smell her house and her cooking.  When I was young I remember riding in the passenger seat of her yellow Lincoln Continental, an absurdly large car, the size of which was further exaggerated because she was scarcely 5 feet tall, if that.  Seat belts simply were not used, and car seats for children were non-existent.  So she would drive around with a cigarette and the steering wheel in her left hand while her right hand was on my chest to keep me from toppling over during high-speed traffic maneuvers.  Keep in mind that this was in Washington D.C. where the mantra for drivers is “Never use your blinker: it gives away your next move”.  Also, Grandma was Italian and spoke with her hands quite a bit, so our conversations were interspersed with short diversions where she would convey her feelings to those around us about their driving ability (or lack thereof).  Sometimes this required freeing up a hand, other times an open window would suffice.  I think this is where I first learned to drive.  And there were many other things I learned from her such as: when you are sick, you go to grandma’s house and lay on the couch until you recuperate.  She was not would I would call a rule follower.  Her attitude was: rules are good to have; however, they do not apply to me.  I only had a couple years to get to know Mimi, but from the stories she told me I sense that she was not always a rule follower herself.  I so wish the two of them could have met each other – I think they would have gotten along famously.  I also wish they could have met Everett, for his sake but also for me and Melissa, to show them such a joyful part of our life together.  What a gift it has been to have our grandparents with us through childhood and adulthood.

One of our biggest regrets about moving to Wisconsin is that Everett’s grandparents aren’t closeby.  Nonetheless, he has been able to see them quite often, many times because of their willingness to travel to see him.  And we are looking forward to hearing the stories and memories that Everett gathers about each of them.

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Everett had his 9 month checkup last week.  After the exam, the doctor had no concerns and reassured us that he appears healthy and is doing well.  Later that night when I glanced at the materials sent home from the doctor’s office I couldn’t help but notice the hodgepodge of units that were used to measure him: weight in pounds, height in inches, head circumference in centimeters, and medication dosages in milliliters and teaspoons.  I suspect this has to do with who manufactured the different gizmos they have around the clinic for doing such measurements, but it could also be a reflection of the Standard & Customary system of units we use in the US, with a heavy emphasis on Customary.  I call it the Weights & Measures Variety Show.  For example:

1. Why do the units of volume depend on what is being measured?  Why is corn measured in bushels, beer in kegs and oil in barrels?

2. Why doesn’t an ounce of gold weigh the same as an ounce of water?  On a similar note, shouldn’t a gallon represent the same volume of water in England and the US?  (Answer: yes, but it doesn’t)

3. Why do we measure body mass (e.g. kilograms) with units of weight (e.g. pounds)?  To clarify, mass is a physical property of your body while weight is a reflection of the local gravitational field.  That’s why your weight would change if you traveled to another celestial body such as the moon, which has a much weaker gravitational field (but much more sensible economic policies).  At this point you might be thinking “My weight is the same everywhere on earth; therefore, can’t it be though of as a surrogate for mass?”  The short answer is no.  The earth’s gravitational field changes depending on where you are located (see this map for details, or you can view the Google Earth version here), which is perhaps why Grandad Cress sometimes finds high gravity zones where things are more likely to be dropped.

But getting back to babies, a relevant example is the way that we size clothing.  In many parts of the world you can select infant clothes by 1) measuring the length of your baby in centimeters and 2) finding clothing with that size printed on the tag.  It’s a simple, straightforward system.  However, in the US we measure baby length in units of time: clothing is sized according to age in months. So if the tag says 18 Month Boy then that means it was probably made for a baby between 30 and 34 inches and weighing between 21 and 32 pounds.  This makes about as much sense as sizing adult clothing by age, and it is a great illustration of the silliness of our system of measure.  Why don’t we switch to metric?  Probably because most parents, myself included, find metric units non-intuitive (e.g. I have no idea what 20 degrees Celsius feels like).  However, it’s probably more accurate to say that metric units are unfamiliar, since it would be difficult to come up with a system more counter-intuitive than the one we use now, to which some respond “Yeah, our system is strange and inconvenient, but what’s the worst thing that can happen?”  Well, one thing that could happen is medical errors resulting from incorrect measurements or dosages, which is why the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting & Prevention recommends using metric: “The change to use of the metric system from the archaic apothecary and avoirdupois systems will help avoid misinterpretations and miscalculations.”  Another thing that could happen is that you could incite inter-planetary conflict.  That’s what NASA found out when they flew a perfectly good orbiter into the surface of Mars (see  Note the first line of the story: “NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because a Lockheed Martin engineering team used English units of measurement…”.  So there you have it: English units cause spacecraft collisions.  $125 million may not sound like much given recent economic events, but keep in mind this was in 1999 so those were Clinton dollars not Bush dollars, before billion became the new million.

I’m getting a bit off topic here.  But I’ll wrap up by saying that we pick clothes for Everett by ignoring the size on the tag and holding him up to the garment, or vice versa, which works great if he is shopping with you but is a challenge for those who buy him clothing but see him less frequently.  And that is a perfect segue into our next blog entry on Grandparents…

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Today we made a trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, home of the Experimental Aircraft Association which hosts the Airventure show every summer, an event that draws about 800,000 people to a town of 65,000.  But the real reason we went there was because it was the birthplace of Oshkosh B’gosh, maker of children’s clothing.  Before Everett was born, all I knew about children was what I learned from a half hour video on Netflix and that they wear Oshkosh B’gosh overalls, the kind that look like a train engineer’s.  And we didn’t realize until recently that it’s just up the road on Lake Winnebago, so we made a pilgrimage there today.  Other highlights:

-Despite the warm temperatures, the lake was still frozen and we saw an incredible number of fishing huts, trucks and ATVs on the ice.

-We stumbled onto the best restaurant in town where the menu listed Wisconsin fondue: Schlitz and cheddar cheese.  It’s not wine and Emmental, but it wasn’t bad either.

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Everett has been learning some new skills that he shares with us from time to time.  Today he started waving when we talk to him.  And over he last few weeks he has become more and more comfortable standing, albeit with a little help.  Today he put it all together, and he even does a little dance partway through.

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