December 2012

Christmas 2012

We spent Christmas this year in Cincinnati with Melissa’s extended family. Everett received several costumes for Christmas including a knight and a pirate. Since then he has been running around the house saying things like “Avast ye scallywags! That booty shall be mine!”, a la B.O.B. in Night of the Living Carrots. Other funny quotes:
-Everett looked closely at Chris and said “Dada, let me see something. Oh yeah, you’ve got that pouncy look in your eyes!”
-He received an eyeball for Christmas, the kind that you can throw at the floor or a wall and it sticks and squishes flat and then slowly oozes back into its normal shape. He picked it up and asked “Grandaddy, does this terrify you?”

One special treat this year was the snow that fell in the days after Christmas. It snowed enough that Everett and Trinity spent a fair amount of time playing outside in it, and Grandaddy took Everett sledding with Trinity and Braden on Saturday. Everett was exhausted when he got home. We also heard that he ate every single crumb of his lunch, which almost never happens. Our view is that a tired, happy kid is a win for everyone. Good work Grandaddy!

Gingerbread houses this year were made on December 28th by the following teams:
-Amanda and Cress made a Hobbit house, partly because they recently visited New Zealand and partly because the movie just came out.
-Bob and Linda made the Orange Bowl stadium because their Alma Mater, Northern Illinois University, is going to the Orange Bowl this year.
-Terry decorated a gingerbread cookie.
-Chris, Melissa and Everett made a rather eclectic house. As soon as we started talking about preparations, Everett exclaimed that he wanted to make a gingerbread house from Zebblor 7, which as almost no one knows is the planet of tired chickens and orbits nearby Zebblor 8, planet of the annoying ducks. See Amazing Cows for details. Chris wanted to incorporate some kind of electricity, but wanted to avoid using batteries or any artificial power source. So he created a planetary power plant from two oranges, two potatoes, an apple and a tomato. This was able to power three LEDs.
-Trinity made a gingerbread house and a sugarplum fairy.
-Kirsten and Braden made a house that was carefully decorated with Fruit Loops and other circular decorations.

Note about fruit/vegetable LEDs: there are videos on the internet that show LED illumination by simply using a lime as a pincushion. Chris was highly skeptical about this for several reasons. First, a single fruit or vegetable does not produce much power, and the voltage produced is generally not enough to overcome the forward voltage of the LED. Second, LED pins are usually made of some ordinary conductor like silver, rather than combinations of metals that can act as electron donors and recipients. Nonetheless, Chris decided to give it a try. The results were disappointing but not unexpected.
Curiously, with multiple fruits and vegetable it did not seem to matter whether they were connected in series (adding voltage) or parallel (adding current). Maybe next year we will try a more traditional voltaic pile.

Photos from the trip are here.

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One type of word that we have written about in the past is collective nouns. These are fun because they often combine clever wordplay (a catastrophe of debt), behavior (an exaltation of larks), attributes (a pride of lions) or onomatopoeia (a flush of plumbers). But our new favorite collective noun is “binders of women”, which as many of us know was a gaffe by Romney during one of the presidential debates. What’s funny about this is that it lacks the attractive attributes of other collective nouns, and yet is just as amusing. Let’s pause for a few moments to imagine a few connotative meanings. Actually, never mind. We don’t envy political candidates who have to speak on the fly in front of live audiences on a daily basis for several months at a time. All of us, no matter how polished we may be at public speaking, are going to trip up sooner or later and say something foolish. And when this happens the media inevitably pounces on it.

Fortunately there are people protecting us from these kinds of missteps. One of them is Philip B. Corbett, a deputy news editor at the New York Times. He is part curmudgeon and part stickler, a person who helps the rest of us avoid impure grammatical thoughts. He has a blog called After Deadline where he tackles thorny language issues that are frankly so obscure that they are difficult for us mortals to get our minds around. He recently wrote about an outbreak of subjunctivitis, which is similar to conjunctivitis, except that it gets under your skin instead of your eyelids. Readers who enjoy this material should also check out Lingua Franca, a blog on the Chronicle of Higher Education. In one recent entry Ben Yagoda writes about the “preposition-possessive-pronoun combo—PPPC for short” and how it “speaks to my geeky heart.” There’s nothing geeky about good communication, though there may be something geeky about taking such apparent delight in arcane usage details.

This may seem rather far afield from the focus of this blog, which is Everett and his entourage. I think the link is his rapidly developing language abilities. He is now able to create grammatically correct sentences and string them together into complex stories. As listeners, we get to observe cognitive leaps and the phrases he uses to segue between them. One common example is “…speaking of X, can we do Y?” He is at a period in his life where creativity and language are freely intermingled without adherence to a strict set of rules. We are looking forward to hearing more language experiments and we will of course report any collective nouns that he invents.

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It has not snowed in a long time in Milwaukee, and it seems that our local weather reporters have a lot of pent up energy for predicting winter storms. For a couple days before December 22 they have been bubbling over about a snowstorm which largely failed to materialize, at least in Milwaukee. Thank you, Chicken Little. Perhaps the weather team could improve their ratings by providing updates on the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar?

While waiting for winter to arrive we have been preparing for Christmas. Melissa has done virtually all of our Christmas shopping and shipping. She also sent our annual holiday cards, though we should note that Chris helped by modernizing our system for printing address labels. Goodbye mail merge in Word, hello Mac Contacts. This reduced the amount of time required to print labels by an order of magnitude.
Holiday Card 2012
Everett has been involved in his own preparations. One night when Chris got home from work there was a sink full of sharks and whales in the downstairs bathroom sink. Later he found our Christmas nativity scene in the freezer. Mmmkay. The night we left for Gabby and Granddaddy’s house Everett put a note out for Santa. Originally this was going to include detailed instructions on where to deliver gifts, but in the end he decided that this was unnecessary due to Santa’s all-knowing powers. Instead he left a drawing of himself along with a cup of water and a homemade cookie. Kyra promptly ate the cookie, which Everett seemed momentarily upset about but he quickly recovered and we found another cookie for Santa.

On Christmas Eve Everett carefully put out snacks for Santa and the reindeer, along with reindeer dust in the front yard.
Reindeer dust in the front yard
Chris reread The Santaland Diaries. Marital tip: do not attempt to read David Sedaris in bed while your spouse is trying to sleep. Unless of course you don’t like David Sedaris in the first place, but in that case you might have other problems.

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Rampage 2012

When cyclists in Milwaukee hear the word “rampage” they normally think of the Santa Rampage, an annual semi-organized bike ride that takes place each December. This year it was on the 15th. However, the tragic events on the 14th made us aware of a different kind of rampage. What took place in Connecticut wasn’t discussed during the ride but was certainly felt, especially considering the fact that the Spokesmen are almost all fathers. Nonetheless we don’t know anyone who considered canceling. Instead we persevered in our primary mission: spreading holiday cheer. Photos from the ride are here.

Everett has been talking about the Santa Rampage for weeks, especially about getting dressed as Rudolph and having a doughnut first thing in the morning. We got up around normal time (7am) and got dressed.
It started raining the moment we stepped out the door at 8am. As an aside, this appears to be another non-winter in Wisconsin, similar to the non-winter of 2011-2012. This is a big disappointment for us. To make an analogy to The Year Without a Santa Claus, we are Snow Misers (but note that Chris sometimes has Heat Miser hair).

Our first stop was Cranky Al’s for doughnuts.
Next stop: Cafe Hollander.
Third stop: Lakefront Brewery. It was extraordinarily difficult to take any photos there because Chris’ camera got nice and cold on the bike, and then he stepped into a room filled with sweaty Santas. The lens fogged up immediately and there was no hope of defogging it inside. This is the only picture that came out. It appears that the fog created a warm holiday glow.
Subsequent stops included Conejito’s, where the Santas took over the party room and washed down paper plate after paper plate of tostadas with pitchers of margaritas. Doug (one of the Spokesmen) got a lot of grief for ordering chicken mole off the menu and for being served on actual ceramic dish. Fourth stop: Kochanski’s Concertina Beer Hall where they were serving shot ski’s (literally), while a woman and her young daughter were in the rain out back selling a beer from the former Soviet Union called Old Bobby (note the poodle on the label, and feel free to offer translations). As always there was a polka band playing Christmas tunes. Last stop: Cafe Hollander again and then home.

The weather for the rampage was cold and rainy this year, but this did not seem to dampen participation. In fact, attendance might have increased over last year, and the way that people on the street responded to the Santas was a stark contrast to the gloomy skies. Lots of laughter, waving, cell phone pictures and general Christmas cheer. We also made the local news:

Each year the Spokesmen tow the Santa trailer, which blasts edgy Christmas songs by Ozzie Osbourne, Twisted Sister and Elvis via a built-in sound system. The original trailer weighed about 130 lbs, and in later years the people who towed it expressed a desire to reduce weight. Chris noticed that they were using sealed-lead acid batteries so he put together a new power system using lithium-ion batteries with much higher energy density. This year we had plenty of power but intermittent problems with the sound, which was likely caused by the constant rain (the trailer is not exactly waterproof). In the days after the rampage we tried to diagnose the power problems by towing the trailer around behind the Bakfiets, providing additional opportunities to spread cheer. Adding the trailer to the Bakfiets was noticeable but not a major change from normal. Everett loved the idea of taking the trailer to school. Watch closely for the cameo appearance by Melissa.

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It seems that all of us take great comfort in the sounds that we make when we are around each other. I think I speak for all parents when I say that we want to hear just the right amount of sound coming from our children: too much sound means things might be getting out of control; too little sound is strange and at the very least in need of investigation. But when Everett is closeby and we can hear him making regular noises then we usually sense that things are ok. Similarly, Everett has started asking us to work in the kitchen (underneath his bedroom) at bedtime so that he can fall asleep.

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Holiday Preparations

Twice while preparing for the holidays Everett has displayed remarkable feats of memory. The first was when we got our wreath out of the basement and we were preparing to hang it on the gable above our front door. Everett saw the tinsel-filled globes on the wreath lights and said “Dad! I have something for you. Wait here!” He ran inside and a few minutes later came our with a globe that was missing. We have no idea where he might have been keeping it, or for that matter how he recalled its location among his many bins, forts, nests and other nooks where he has things squirreled away. Later that night Chris couldn’t find the wireless remote for the power switch on our Christmas tree lights. After searching for a while he asked Everett if he knew where it was. Within seconds Everett found it in the back of coffee table drawer. What is remarkable about both of these examples is that it has been about 11 months since we needed either of these things.

We are also preparing for the Santa Rampage on December 15th. A couple weeks ago Chris mentioned to Everett that this is coming up and added a comment like “Maybe we will dress you up like Rudolph?” Chris meant this as a possible scenario sometime in the future, as in “Maybe we will go the ice hotel one day?”, but apparently Everett heard it differently. We know this because he has mentioned several times “Remember you said you were going to get me a Rudolph costume?”, to which Melissa commented “Good luck getting out of that one!” So we are now shopping for a Rudolph costume. Photos will be forthcoming.

To help us get in the Christmas spirit we went to see the light displays at Harris Bank (formerly the M&I Bank display) and the Public Museum over the weekend.
Everett catching butterflies at the Public Museum
In the museum we found a sign that explained the many names of our city and the emphasis on phonetic spelling, which becomes clear after you live here for a while and get to see many different spellings of common streets, cities and bodies of water. Menomonee is a good example.
In other preparations, Everett has started drafting a letter to Santa with detailed instructions about how and where to deliver Christmas presents.

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Today Chris and Everett attended our first Y-Tribe event. Chris learned about it from Dan, a friend and fellow Spokesman. The Y-Tribe is a YMCA-sponsored group of Dads and children ages 4K through about 4th grade. They usually get together once a month. Today was bowling at Bluemound Bowl; the next event is camping in late January. Once Chris got to the event he began to realize how many Spokesmen were in the group. One of them was Bob, a family practice physician who has worked at MCW for some time. He and Chris share a lot of common interests. I introduced Everett to him and his daughter, and he replied “This is my daughter Elsie.” As soon as he said this his daughter had a look of concern on her face and started trying to get his attention. After a minute he turned to her to see what was up. “Dad!” she whispered, “I’m Rachel.” This was a glimpse of what it must be like to have five children. The second insight was when we were discussing the number of children in our families and he mentioned “It doesn’t matter if you have one child or five children. They take up all of your time.” The point he was trying to make was that five children isn’t five times the work of one child. Good to know.

Bowling was fun, and afterward we rode to Dan’s house for Santa Rampage preparations…

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Chris recently downloaded an app that finds other free apps each day, and as a result he has been spending precious free time playing games for the first time in about ten years. So far they are mostly word and puzzle games, but the racing game Asphalt7 has turned out to be surprisingly engaging. Naturally Everett has taken a great interest as well, and he somehow learned the password for Chris’ iPad so he is able to explore at will. Chris has also started downloading apps specifically for Everett including some really neat interactive kids books like Riding Hood. Today we downloaded the Talking Santa app and had fun for a few minutes poking his belly, feeding him milk and cookies, and taking Christmas snapshots like this.
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Then we discovered a button that causes the Santa moon as follows:

Everett thought this was hilarious and spent the next 15 minutes mooning Chris. The entire time Chris was trying not to laugh while explaining to Everett that this is not acceptable behavior for school or in public. Not sure how much of this really got through. This is just a warning to our family that there may be a moon in your future. Thanks Santa!

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