December 2011


Today we took Everett bowling for the first time. We weren’t sure if it was appropriate to take a three year old bowling but our concerns were relieved as soon as we arrived at the bowling alley: we were one of about 20 lanes of families bowling with children at noon on a Wednesday. Everett was a little hesitant at first but then got into it and started working on his technique. He started by walking up to the line and pushing the ball, then got some help from Mom and Dad (and the bumpers), and eventually graduated to throwing it by standing upright and rotating his torso like a lot of the other kids.

Judging from the nap he took after we got home, we learned that it is possible to tire him out. All you have to do is ask him to carry bowling balls around for two hours.

In the 1990s Chris worked for Lockheed Martin for five years on a series of projects that may or may not exist (sorry, these projects won’t be declassified until 2018 at the earliest). The only non-classified program he worked on was to modernize the space launch facilities at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base. Basically, both of these launch facilities were still using antiquated systems that required close to a month to turn around between launches. Some of the computer systems in use were from the 1960s mainly because they still worked, and because it was so costly to develop and certify replacements. These computer systems were something Chris hadn’t thought about in a long time until he saw the ones in use at the bowling alley.

The similarities are remarkable. Seemingly all you need to do is relabel the buttons for space launch.

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Merry Christmas! We hope everyone is having a great holiday.

We celebrated Christmas at home this year. It was nice to take a break from traveling, but we certainly missed spending time with our friends and family.

In past years Everett’s attitude toward Santa has been circumspect at best. But this year we turned a corner and Santa is now someone who is trusted and revered in our family. Everett met with Santa right after Thanksgiving, and this has allowed a lot of time for anticipation and buildup of Christmas magic. In the week before Christmas Everett met the Grinch in the original animated version. Since then the Grinch song has been extremely popular in our house, as well as several other Christmas favorites he is learning such as Sleigh Ride, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Jingle Bells. Other Christmas preparation activities included visiting the display at M&I Bank in Milwaukee,

making a Yule Log,

and visiting the Audubon Center for some hiking and exploration

We spent Christmas Eve at home after the 4pm family service at the First Congregational Church in Tosa. We built a fire and Melissa made some delicious enchiladas. Everett felt sick for a couple hours after church (no causation implied) and threw up on the couch. Despite this, he was still lucid enough to express grave concern about Santa’s inability to use our chimney because of the fire in the fireplace. We assured him that we would put the fire out before we went to bed, and went about the rest of our preparations which included spreading reindeer dust on the front lawn and leaving Santa a note with milk and cookies.

Everett received many thoughtful gifts for Christmas. A couple of them that he talks about often are the cement truck (from Santa) and the recycling truck (from Gabby & Grandaddy). He originally asked Santa for both, but fortunately Gabby & Grandaddy know Santa pretty well and they were able to coordinate gifts. In the afternoon Chris and Everett went to a playground to get some wiggles out. Christmas dinner was mashed potatoes, asparagus and beef tenderloin, which we ate while Everett conducted another experiment to: see if he could blow out the fire in the fireplace by waving a towel.

Christmas this year was a bit warm and without snow. In fact, we are still waiting for winter to arrive. Temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s and we have only had one small snowstorm so far. We’ve missed winter activities like sledding and skiing. It’s also been hard on our local forecasters because it’s difficult to stir up weather-related panic under such conditions. So far it’s not the winter that was predicted last fall but there are still plenty of winter months ahead of us.

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Quotes & Questions

Many months ago Everett entered the Why phase. I meant to write about it at the time but fell behind on the blog for a while. A recent blog entry described questions about how things work. Now he is also beginning to ask more difficult questions that at the very least cause us to pause and think:

“Do dogs like mirrors?”

In our bedroom is a picture of Melissa’s belly when she was pregnant. E has looked at it and asked about it many times over the last couple years, and in the last couple weeks he asked “How did I get in there?” We did not anticipate talking to him about this subject at such a young age.

With regard to the squirrel that died in our neighbor’s back yard: “Is the skeleton dead? Why did he die? Did he fall out of the tree?” This led to a series of questions about death over the next couple weeks. Melissa explained that animals grow old and die, so naturally he started asking if the same applied to people. And within a couple days of that he asked “Mommy, if persons are young, do they die?” He has not yet asked whether this could happen to him but we feel confident that he is starting to think about it. These are answers for which we want to choose our words very carefully.

And here are a few recent quotes:

“If you hurt yourself and the blood comes out, then you have to go to the hospital. If you hurt yourself and no blood comes out then you can get a band aid.“

”When I am older I will get the grown up hairs and they will be brown. These are not grown up hair.“ Here he was referring to the hair on his head and his arms.

Everett recently accompanied Chris to fix the car. As we gathered our tools and were headed out of the house he said “We’re boys so we fix things.” When Melissa asked if she fixed things also he added “Mom, you fix some little things too.”

During a recent visit to the grocery store Melissa said to Everett “I’m trying to hurry up and finish before you run out of patience” to which he replied “Well I only have one patient left!”

These quotes and questions illustrate some of the great privileges of being a parent: observing your children in a way that no one else can, and watching new abilities emerge like humor, compassion, creative exploration and critical thinking.


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We got a call from pre-school on Thursday morning that Everett had fallen and cut his head and needed to be taken to the hospital. Those of you who have been in similar situations are probably familiar with the ensuing surge of adrenaline while different scenarios race through your mind. No one saw it happen and Everett didn’t cry or tell anyone he was hurt, so all we have to go on is his description: “I was spinning around and I hit my head on the window line”, by which we think he means the ledge under the window. It was a decent-sized gash that caused a lot of bleeding, but because he responded so calmly everyone initially thought he had paint on his forehead. As soon as they realized what happened they called us, stopped the bleeding and cleaned him up. Melissa picked him up and Chris met both of them at the emergency room at Children’s Hospital (downstairs from his office). The staff at the hospital and the care he received were both amazing. This was a drastically different experience from what Chris or Melissa recall from ER visits during their childhoods. This was also the first time Chris became aware of Child Life Specialists who tend to the needs of the child during their visit. Equally amazing was Everett’s behavior during the visit. When we arrived at the ER he was a bit woozy and just not his normal self (aka: no wiggles). But within an hour his energy level had returned and he was exploring the hospital room, pushing levers and pedals, turning knobs, climbing on the hospital bed, etc. Despite his energy level he was completely cooperative with the doctors and nurses. He didn’t cry or even make a sound while his forehead was cleaned and stitched (four stitches). By Thursday evening he seemed completely back to normal.

As parents we are proud of him for being so brave, but we can’t help but notice the contrast in how he reacts to physical injury compared to not being in complete control of his surroundings. On Monday night when Chris returned from Washington D.C. Everett had a two-hour meltdown because we left the airport before he was allowed sufficient time to explore and because we didn’t allow him to go everywhere he wanted to (“No, you may not crawl under the piano”). Similar meltdowns have occurred as a result of seemingly minor parental infractions like taking his socks off before he is ready. The incredible thing about his reactions is not just the intensity but his stamina to keep at it until he gets some token of control. And we know that he saves this behavior for us – none of his other caregivers have reported these kinds of reactions. From talking to other parents we suspect that on some level this will serve him well later in life, but that’s difficult to keep in mind during an exhausting battle of wills with a three year old.


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This time of year it’s dark outside by around 4pm. And since neither Chris nor Melissa are crazy about the idea of Everett riding home with Chris after dark on the Bakfiets, we’ve worked out a system where Chris drops him off at preschool in the morning and Melissa picks him up in the evening. This has been fine so far because it’s been an unusually warm December and the canopy on the Bakfiets is quite effective, so we haven’t yet felt that it was too cold for cycling. However, during summer months Dad and E would stop at a playground to “get some wiggles out” before coming home, and it now seems that without this extra playtime E is coming home with a LOT of energy to burn off. We’re not sure what they do at school in terms of physical activity but he certainly needs more than he is getting. This is what wiggles look like. Please not that they are difficult to capture on film even with good lighting and fast shutter speeds:

Everett seems to understand this and points out parts of his body where he sees a wiggle that needs to get out. We have tried to reduce them by providing more time for roughhousing, and have been moderately successful if you don’t count the time he fell off our bed. But roughhousing alone is not enough, so we are now planning to add other evening activities like swim class, bowling and perhaps ice skating. We will report back on how successful we are at reducing the disparity in energy levels at the end of the day: Mom and Dad want to rest and relax while E is running at full speed.

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Last Friday night Chris was exhausted after a long week and really needed some rest so we decided to build a fire and have family movie night on the couch. That’s when we discovered there was a live squirrel in our fireplace. We’re not sure how long he had been there but the last time we opened the doors was a week earlier during the Kavanaugh Crawl. We contemplated many different strategies for getting him out and eventually remembered that our next door neighbor owns a small rodent trap. So we put together boxes to completely cover the hearth, put the trap inside the boxes with some cashews and peanut butter as bait, and then opened the door to the fireplace. No activity through the evening and at bedtime the trap was still set so we called it a night.

The next day was the Santa Rampage. Our loyal readers likely recall this even from previous years: hundreds of Santas gather by bicycle in downtown Milwaukee to spread holiday cheer in a convivial, bike-friendly atmosphere. The gathering is preceded by several smaller meetings around the city, one of which is in Tosa. So Chris and Everett got up around dawn to witness a Santa Rampage miracle: our first snow. We bundled up and took the Bakfiets for its first snow ride and it performed remarkably well.

Good traction must be one of the few advantages of riding a 100lb bike. First stop: Cranky Al’s for coffee and doughnuts. By luck we got to sit with the Carter family, which meant that Everett got to sit across the table from Sara, which meant that he was uncharacteristically quiet.

Next: the Spokesmen rode to Cafe Hollander in Tosa where we were joined by other west-side Santas. After a little while Everett got cold and discovered that Sara had gone home, so we did the same, but not before making the local news.

There was still no sign of the squirrel but Chris assured Melissa that she should call if she needed any help with the trap during the day, and Melissa assured Chris that if she did need help she would not be calling 300 inebriated Santas. Chris dropped off E and returned to Hollander for the ride downtown. As it turned out, three huge groups of Santas converged on Brady St at the same time, resulting in a sight that is indelibly etched in Chris’ mind: hundreds of Santas on bike, filling the width of the road and stretching as far as we could see to the horizon. It was extraordinary. Another amazing event was that Conejitos in Milwaukee decided to open their banquet room to accommodate the Santas without any prior notice. They almost instantly seated 50 of them.

By the time Chris returned home at 5 there were reports of noises from the squirrel trap. We peeked in and saw that the trap had sprung so we pulled the box away from the hearth and found the squirrel loose in the box. Neighbors of ours have had squirrels running loose in their house and described the mayhem this caused. The presence of Kyra and Everett added to the potential chaos if he got loose in our house. So we shut the box as best we could, dragged it outside and performed a successful release into the wild. We built a fire that night and got up early again the next morning so that Chris could fly to Washington D.C. early the next morning for Sean’s surprise birthday party. Friends and family gathered on Sunday evening in Bethesda to celebrate Sean turning 40. It was a fun gathering at Dave and Busters. Photos of the event will be posted soon but here is one to get started:

Happy 40th Birthday Sean!

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Sleigh Ride

Over the last couple weeks we have attended a nonstop series of holiday-related events. The day after Everett saw Santa in his duck costume we got to see him again at the annual Wauwatosa tree lighting, along with Scott & Lynette & family.

Santa arrived on a fire engine while Everett, George and Emma ran in circles around the adults who were enjoying a disjoint conversation punctuated by child collisions.

The boys sat on Santa’s lap (Emma declined),

and all three of them got candy canes from Mrs. Claus. Looks like baby Sam will have to wait until next year.

As an aside we should point out that Everett definitely has a sweet tooth. He probably gets this from Chris – Melissa prefers savory treats to desserts. This time of year he gets an abundance of cookies, candy and other treats which are quite plentiful from holiday events and the baking we do at home. It also helps that if he asks for treats and doesn’t get the answer he wants then he will shop around until he does. Around the holidays there is almost always someone nearby who will comply.

The next night we went to the Little Red Store in Tosa village to watch the Christmas Train come by:

Last Friday night our house was stop number two out of five on the Kavanaugh Crawl. This is really an ideal way to hold a party. Everyone arrives and leaves at almost exactly the same time, and they stay for 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Unless you sign up to be the last house there are no stragglers. Our house was advertised by Stroby the Snowman in our front yard.

Preparation was a bit exhausting (as Melissa puts it she was in “decorating and cleaning overdrive”) but the party was a lot of fun and cleanup was surprisingly easy. Our signature drink was gluhwein, and for snacks Melissa made shortbread cookies, rumaki and a cashew-bacon mixture. Amazingly, Everett fell asleep while everyone was at our house.

The following day we went for a ride on the Christmas Express train, which is run by the East Troy Electric Railroad. Everett was mesmerized once he realized that he was sitting close to Santa on the train, and he got to talk to Santa for a few minutes to confirm his choice of Christmas gifts.

Rudolph also stopped by (at least we think it was Rudolph):

That night there was a horse-drawn sleigh offering rides in our neighborhood, so we went on that as well but don’t have any good pictures because it was after dark and Chris didn’t want to startle the horses by using the camera flash. Everett continues to monitor who is on which of Santa’s lists: Mom is on the nice list, Dad is on the naughty list (we aren’t exactly sure why), and Everett’s self-assessment is “I’m not on Santa’s nice list. I’m on his super nice list!” Finally, to get into the winter spirit Everett has started sleeping in his igloo at night.

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Everett has become an eager helper at times. He recently started cleaning the floors with a small, battery powered vacuum, and when that isn’t available he will use a handheld broom and dustpan. He has always been interested in tools, especially when Chris is using them, and has taken quite an interest in fixing things. The other night Chris was reattaching a piece of loose wood trim in the living room and removing some old nails in the process.

Everett was very interested in helping so Chris let him take over, and the result is his first repair job:

A couple days later Chris and Melissa had to remove his handiwork to get ready for neighbors to come over during the Kavanaugh Crawl. Everett noticed right away and said “I thought I fixed that already!” The details that he notices about his environment are remarkable. This applies not only to things about us (such as Melissa’s new glasses) and details about the house (like minor changes in decoration) but he has also been remarking about the smells he notices. Sometimes he likes them (he is an expert at sniffing out cookies), sometimes he doesn’t (“You guys smell like salami!”) and in some cases they inspire fear. Chris was recently stripping some paint with a heat gun. When Everett smelled the vapors he was quite fearful, and repeatedly expressed how concerned he was about it. This also comes at a time when he is first becoming aware of mortality. Last summer a squirrel died in our neighbor’s backyard and the body has now decomposed to the point where we we can see the skeleton. Over time he has been asking more detailed questions about whether the squirrel is dead and what this means, as well as developing theories about how the squirrel died. His sense of mortality has also made its way into his dreams which he often describes to us in the mornings. This started a long time ago when his vocabulary was more limited (“I had a story in my head last night”). It now seems like his descriptions are limited by his ability to express abstract ideas and differentiate multiple meanings for words. A few nights ago he asked Melissa “What does wild mean?”. This was followed by providing examples like “I fed a wild seal” and “wild man”. The latter is one of Chris nicknames for him that is in use more often this time of year when, due to the fact that it gets dark around 4pm, more and more of his boundless energy has to be expended inside rather than outside the house.

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Mah Na Mah Na

The new Muppets movie came out recently, and this is the first movie we have watched together as a family in the theater. We went to the 10:20am showing on Sunday morning, reasoning that there wouldn’t be too many people and those who did show up would also have children and would therefore be more tolerant of talking and running around (we were right on all counts). Everett did really well and sat for almost the whole two hours including 30 minutes of previews that were too long for everyone. The movie was as nostalgic as we expected and included a lot of old favorites like the Rainbow Connection and the Muppets rendition of Mah Na Mah Na. If you don’t know this song then be forewarned that it is unbelievably catchy and will likely be difficult to purge from your mind. So don’t watch this video, or if you do then turn the sound off:

Since then Everett has started singing the song. This morning Everett and Chris sang a Mah Na Mah Na duet for about 30 minutes during the bike ride to school. As Chris started to lose his mind from the repetitive nature of the song and from oxygen deprivation caused by singing while pedaling the Bakfiets, he became more and more creative with his verses. Everett thought this was hysterical and just wanted to sing more…next time maybe Chris will do his Grinch imitation.

Speaking of singing, Everett’s favorite song at the moment is The Edge by Lady Gaga.

Other favorites are Marry You by Bruno Mars and Turn the World Around by Harry Belafonte (with the Muppets).

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Next Friday night is the Kavanaugh Crawl, the annual holiday party on our block. Each year partygoers visit five houses starting at 6:30pm and ending in the wee hours of the morning (whoever signs up to be the last house is never quite sure what they will be in for). This year ours is the second house. As a result we have entered a whirlwind of cleaning and decorating, which has been good motivation to do get rid of stuff we don’t need and to put into place a lot of improvements we have been thinking about for a while but just never had time for. Those of you who have gone through this process know how much it can grow as you take a critical look your cupboards, closets and other storage areas. This probably explains why Melissa decided to go through all of her cookbooks and give away the ones we no longer use. One is an old cookbook of Chris’ called Indian Cookin (the copyright on it is 1973, which was a time before we started using more appropriate terms like Native American). Coincidentally, Melissa pulled this book out to consider for the Goodwill pile at almost exactly the same time she found a raccoon in our garbage. We have large, wheeled garbage bins that are issued by the city. They are equipped with thick rubber cords on top to keep the lid closed, presumably to keep animals out, though it appears that the raccoons in our neighborhood are sufficiently evolved to be able to open the bins without any trouble. Anyway, Melissa opened the garbage bin in the middle of the day and was surprised to find a large raccoon looking right back at her without seeming the least bit concerned about her presence. You may recall that while we were in Friday Harbor Melissa declared that she was a frontier wife, so when she told me the story about her animal encounter I pointed out that the Indian Cookin book has the following recipe for raccoon:

Clean coon, par boil in plain water with plenty of red pepper. When tender remove from pot, add salt and pepper. Bake in oven until brown.

When I read this recipe a few thoughts came to mind. First, this seems like surprisingly few steps for cooking an animal. Second, since Everett came into our lives I have become increasingly aware of several sayings that seem at best unnecessary and at worst pretty silly. When I was growing up I would often go  with my cousins to Grandma’s house, and when she needed some time to herself she would say “Go play!” in a stern voice. What we did during those times is now called “self-directed play”, perhaps because it didn’t involve any kind of electronic entertainment. Similarly, one “movement” that has come about in response to the many processed foods in our lives is called “single-ingredient food” (also known as just food). So there you have it: cooking up a coon could allow Melissa to live up to her new role as a frontier wife, and would allow us to join a movement. So far neither of these arguments has been sufficient to convince her to try the recipe, but I’m sure it would help if any of our readers could vouch for it.


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