Category Archives: Family

To Liza on Her Sixth Birthday

Liza contemplates a butterfly

Since you still are obsessed with animals, we celebrated your birthday at the Tennessee Aquarium. You got to look at all of the aquatic animals and pet stingrays and vibrate excitedly. Before you were born, I never thought that we’d be the kind of family with a season pass to an aquarium. Now we’ve been there enough that you know some of the animals by name and are disappointed if you don’t get to see Stewie the sea turtle.

Liza with a grasshopper on her shoulder

You love more than just the aquarium animals, which is good since otherwise you’d spend most of your time being sad that macaroni penguins don’t feature much in our day-to-day life. Bugs still hold a special place in your heart. You’ve kept a dead cicada in your car seat’s cupholder for more than a year. Last summer a grasshopper jumped onto your leg and you carefully helped it climb up you until it reached your shoulder so it could become your animal familiar. We have endless pictures of you with beetles and butterflies on your finger. You’re also fond of mammals. You asked to dress up as a cat for Halloween, and at Christmas when you got to visit a horse, your glee was strong enough to melt the snow all around you.

Liza stacks stuff on Anwyn the corgidor

You adore Anwyn, our rescued corgi-lab mix. You call her “puppy” even though she’s an adult dog, though we don’t actually know how old Anwyn is. Vets tell a dog’s age by looking at their teeth, evaluating the amount of tooth wear, and then making a wild-ass guess. One vet who saw Anwyn said that she was three years old, and then the next said that she was maybe a year old. If I tolerated error bars like that with you, this would be my letter to you on your second or maybe seventh birthday. Anyway, you like to hug Anwyn randomly, which she tolerates with the well-nigh infinite patience of a Labrador. She also shares your love of bugs. Some nights you two race as Anwyn tries to eat a beetle that’s skittering across the floor while you’re trying to save it.

Ballerina Liza brandishes a Nerf gun

Stuffed animals also count. You sleep with as many of them as you can pile on the bed. The stuffed animals build up like barnacles or YouTube comments, and like those two things, they have to be scraped off from time to time. We bring in a shovel and clear off your bed so that there’s room for you, but each night you choose a new animal to sleep with until your bed is once again covered. Your mom and I have wondered if they secretly compete to be nearest the bed and thus the most visible, increasing the chance that you’ll choose them to sleep with. We’ve had to limit the number of new stuffed animals you’ve been getting. “I just want this one,” you’ll lie convincingly, but we’re on to you. For you, getting just one stuffed animal is like eating just one potato chip.

Liza hangs upside-down in her rain boots

You continue to be way more athletic than anyone else in the family. When you went rollerskating for the first time since you were very young, you skated like a fiend. You’re still a big fan of swimming. If there’s a ball around, you’ll kick it up and down an imaginary field. At some point your mom and I should stop being lazy and sign you up for an organized sport, or even a disorganized one like kids’ soccer. It may be tied to how you love going very fast. When we went to a local amusement park, you skipped all the slower kid rides and made a beeline for the rollercoasters. It’s a good thing I still enjoy going on them!

Liza's drawing of some kind of weird cryptid

When you’re not running around, you’re often crafting. If I haven’t seen you in a half-hour and can’t hear you arguing with Eli, I know you’re in the office and the floor is covered with paper, crayons, pens, and glue. When I come home from work, I’ll often find a little drawing that you’ve made on a scrap of paper and left lying on a table or sofa or Anwyn. These creations often come with stories. “This is my angel dog cat butterfly,” you’ll say, proudly presenting the new cryptid that you’ve created.

Liza in her Daisy Girl Scouts uniform

All of this comes together in Girl Scouts, which combines crafting and nature in a way that is tailor-made for you. You joined this year and became a Daisy, though not a literal daisy, just a figurative one who earned petals by doing cool activities and also selling cookies. You sold lots of cookies, a number of them to us. I never thought I could be tired of Thin Mints, and yet here I am, completely uninterested in the sleeve of them that’s currently in our freezer and has been for weeks. It used to be that Thin Mints evaporated around me, and now they hang around longer than broccoli hangs around your brother. You didn’t just sell cookies to us, though. We had you do the selling. I didn’t bring the sign-up sheet in to work. Instead, you came yourself to take orders. You were dressed in your Daisy uniform and looked like a stereotypical cute and quiet and slightly shy Girl Scout and so you sold so many cookies.

Liza at preschool graduation

The best part was when you got to go to Girl Scout camp for one day. You communed with nature and told a counselor that compasses work because of the Earth’s magnetic field. Best of all, you got to paint your own t-shirt. You covered it with giant slabs of paint. The other girls in your troop painted dots or swirly lines. You? You got all Helen Frankenthayler on that t-shirt.

This year you started kindergarten, which also involved a lot of crafting. The first time I visited you at school I got to watch you paint in art class, your tongue stuck out as you concentrated. You were nervous before you started, worried that you’d fail kindergarten because you weren’t yet reading well. I was sympathetic. When I was in kindergarten I worried that I was going to fail kindergarten because I had to skip but I couldn’t do it. I practiced and practiced so I could graduate from kindergarten and not spiral down into a life of drunken homelessness. But the year went swimmingly. You made friends like Trinity and quickly mastered reading.

Liza concentrates on painting a wooden block

While school’s been good, it’s brought with it a host of social pressures that you’re all too aware of. One day you told me, “I don’t want to wear anything Star Wars to school. I don’t want the other girls to know I like Star Wars.” As we talked about it, you kept saying, “Star Wars is for boys,” despite how much you’ve enjoyed the movie and the Lego versions of it. “I don’t know any girls who like Star Wars.” I hate that we have to combat these kinds of stereotypes so early. I don’t want what you enjoy bound up in artificial ideas of what’s for girls and what’s for boys.

Liza in her Captain America sleep shirt

It helps that you’ve got an older brother. You and he watch everything from Star Wars to My Little Pony together, and he ignores most gender distinctions about entertainment. You two play together well, barring the inevitable fighting about whose Lego robot is stronger and nuh uh there’s no way that robot’s shield will stop your laser gun. You’ve got my temper, which means I can tell when you and Eli aren’t getting along because you start shrieking loudly and angrily, making chunks of sheetrock fall from the walls.

Liza has a serious "I just blew bubbles" face

Right now you alternate between being fearless and cautious, between running full-tilt ahead and lagging behind. It takes you a while to warm up to new things. We went to a My Little Pony event at the library, where there were people in giant Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle costumes. You didn’t want to approach them at first, but when we were getting ready to leave you wanted to have your picture taken with them.

Closeup of Liza with paint on her nose

I love watching how you react to things. I can tell when something’s funny because you say “heh” in a low-pitched voice. If it’s really funny you giggle. You absorb every song you hear and sing along with it. There’s nothing like hearing your piping voice singing along to Helena Beat one octave up. Like Eli did before you, you’ve learned the rhythm of jokes but don’t yet fully understand their content, leading to you making up jokes like this one:

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Applebee’s.”

“Applebee’s who?”

“Applebee’s got bees in it!”

Liza and friend peer over a pew, laughing

This letter’s a month late because life’s been so hectic lately, but I knew I was going to finish this letter. I’m writing it to future you and future me, so that we can both remember what you turning six was like. We’ll be different people then, the distant descendants of who we are now. My hope is that these letters will tie us to the past and let us re-experience what it was like when you were young.

Liza and dad and a pogo stick

Happy Dino Day, Stephen!

A month before Stephen’s birthday, I realized that the local group who flamingoed yards for a living had gone out of business. This was sad-making because I had been planning to give him the full flamingo treatment on his 40th birthday for some time. One of our best pals, RenĂ©e, suggested we do it ourselves. I started checking around and found two-foot tall, inflatable dinosaurs at the Dollar Store. Score!

Who knew 40 dinosaurs would hog the whole couch like that?!?

I asked for donations of $1 to sponsor a dinosaur and you all came through for me! I got enough fundage to pay for the dinosaurs, the sign and to take Stephen out for a burrito while we were at Dragon*con. Thanks!!

I was nice and didn’t proclaim to the whole street Stephen’s actual age!
Full 40.

Stephen claims he was properly surprised even though the day before I accidentally let it slip that there was something happening for his birthday that involved dinosaurs. He thought it was a riot that I’d been sneaking around for a month and threatening to disinherit the kids if they told and then I let it slip the day before. Meh, he was still surprised. Or at least he faked it really well.

The whole set up took me about two hours. The kids and I were waiting for him to get home, standing in the dino field wearing dino hats and blowing dino noisemakers. I’m sure we were quite the site.

The kids got to help take the cards from around the dinos necks.

To Liza on Her Fifth Birthday

Liza grins excitedlyYou are another year older, another year taller, and another year obsessed with bugs and spiders. The other day you found a wolf spider outside our garage that had given birth to a gazillion little babies. “Aww!” you said. “Look! Baby spiders!” You paused. “Don’t kill them yet, Dad, I want to watch them some more.” Because you’re so interested in insects and spiders, you’re well aware of how the circle of life works. You killed a fly one time and then promptly put it on a web outside so that a spider would have something to eat, like you were some kind of Sonic car-hop who served fly smoothies instead of cherry limeades. Another time, when a ladybug landed on you, you excitedly shrieked, “Ladybug likes me because I’m salty!” After a pause, you added, “Ladybug pooped on me because I’m salty!”

Liza holds up her Big Book of BugsYou’re not as tolerant of all bug processes. When you discovered that flies vomit on things they’re going to eat you became distraught. Eli helped you face your fears, though. As he explained to us later, “I helped her not be afraid of flies. I told her that when they vomit, they suck it right back up so it goes away.” You’re also not quite clear on when a bug is dead or not. You picked a black beetle up once and put it in your bug catcher, showing it around proudly. “Honey,” your mom told you, “I’m afraid he’s dead.” “Nuh uh!” you yelled. You paused and then shook the bug catcher violently. “See? He’s moving!”

Liza lies beside our corgidor (corgi/lab mix) AnwynYour real obsession, though, has been our dog Anwyn. You’ve been asking us to get a dog since you were two, which means we’ve been listening to your pleas for 21 dog years. You had elaborate plans about the dog we were going to get. A bit before your birthday you announced that we were going to get a dog and that your mom and I would wrap it up and give it to you on your birthday and then you’d be surprised. Instead of going the fake surprise route, we visited a bunch of local shelters, finally adopting a young corgi-yellow lab mix that we named Anwyn. She is young and energetic and some twenty feet long. We thought that her being a lab/corgi mix was an accident of breeding, leading to much speculation about whether a step stool had been involved, but it turns out that lab/corgi mixes are a thing that some breeders are doing. They call the hybrid breed “corgidors,” which is totally fun to say. As a friend of mine said, “Beware the corgidor, my son! The eyes that plead, the legs that creep!”

Liza peers out from under a giant pile of stuffed animalsWe thought having a dog would make you less dog-obsessed, or at least focus your dog obsession. It hasn’t. You’re still able to spot dogs with frightening acumen. It may be in part because you have a love-hate relationship with our corgidor. Anwyn appears to think of you as another young dog. She plays with you by mouthing you and putting her teeth on your ankle to herd you, or by leaping up and knocking you down since she’s only fifteen pounds lighter than you and about as long as you are tall. You are very not crazy about this behavior, and it sometimes sends you into tears. But then Anwyn will calm down and you lie down beside her, hugging and petting ehr and occasionally wanting to play with her ears in a way that would lead to you being called Liza of the Nine Fingers if Anwyn weren’t so patient. I’m sure the two of you were made for each other, though: Anwyn also loves bugs, having a great time nosing them about and snapping at them so that they’ll scuttle away and she can chase them.

Liza and Eli look at a cicadaYour relationship with Anwyn is reminiscent of your relationship with Eli. You and he get along great until suddenly you don’t. You can’t stand to be around each other and then you can’t be separated. Eli has had a sentimental streak for you since you were born, but you’re starting to have one for him. In September you and he got into the habit of collecting acorns from the trees by our church and bringing them home to rot quietly on tables and counters. Eventually we outlawed more acorns coming into the house. He and you decided to plant the acorns instead so you could have as many acorns as the resulting tree would produce. “That’ll take a while,” I warned you two. “You may not have acorns until Eli is in college.” Eli looked so sad that you had to comfort him. “It’s okay, Eli, you’ll be in college and I’ll be in school but we’ll still love acorns!”

Liza slides down a slide in her Halloween outfitOf all of us, you’re the most athletic and the most pain resistant. You’ve taken up swimming, though saying like that doesn’t convey the intensity with which you swim. You leap into the water and paddle furiously. You’ve been taking swim lessons and can just about swim the length of the pool at the Y, and have developed a tiny six-pack and swimmer shoulders. That’s also helped you master the monkey bars, where you swing across them before dropping down from them like a blond-haired ninja from on high. You love riding your scooter and your bike, showing bike trick after bike trick that boil down to two basics: ride really fast, and then slam on the brakes so that you stop really quickly. When I was your age I rode a Big Wheel down the hill at break-neck speed until turning into the driveway and pulling the brake and spinning out, so I understand your love of moving fast and stopping suddenly.

Liza models one of Misty's hats in the sunlightDid I mention your tolerance for pain? In July you had minor stomach surgery. Eli wanted to comfort you and talked about how his anesthesiologist had told him that the anesthesia mask smelled like a monkey’s butt. “No,” you replied, “I want mine to smell of puppies and rainbows.” The surgery went fine. Your doctor told us that you’d need to take it easy for a few days until everything healed and it didn’t hurt to move. Two days later you were tearing around the house like crazy. I asked if it hurt. “Yeah. But I don’t care.”

Liza in a crocheted owl hat and coat brandishes a Nerf gunYour true love is reserved for crafting. You draw. You color. You glue things onto other things. When you stay with me in my office, you color on my whiteboard. “See? This is a sea serpent. Here are the fish in the sea under it.” You give your creations names, like UNOST. You can’t read, though you desperately want to be able to, but you’ve figured out the rhythm of consonants and vowels that let you string together letters in word-like ways. Just last week you turned to me and mom and announced, “God made me to make art,” at which point the sky opened up and your mom went up in a whirlwind into heaven, her earthly work complete.

Liza displays her fingerIf I’m not careful, it’s easy to make Eli the child of firsts and you the child of lasts. Eli has ushered us into various stages of parenting, while you have heralded the end of those stages. That’s not fair to you, though, and minimizes your own firsts and the ways in which you’re carving your own trail through childhood. You are very much your own person, and I celebrate that every day.

Liza gets ready to snag tickets in the Chuck E. Cheese ticket tubeYou requested a birthday celebration at Chuck E. Cheese again this year, and so it came to pass that Mumsy, your mom and I spent another birthday watching children bounce around and ride rides and play video games and vibrate with excitement. Chuck E. Cheese had added something to their birthday repertoire: a ticket-blowing machine. After you had eaten your fill of cake and pizza and also more cake, one of the employees led you into a large, clear cylinder filled with tickets and with an attached air compressor. The employee tucked your shirt in and gave you glasses to protect your eyes from the wind and the flying cardboard slips. She then put one of the tickets that was worth a thousand regular, lesser tickets onto the floor and slid your shoe over it. “When the fan starts,” she murmured, “grab it and stuff it in your clothes.” She then wedged another high-value ticket into a seam in the tube and pointed to it. “And pick that one up as well.” Then she closed the door, the air compressor kicked on, and cardboard went flying. With a nonchalance that made it look like you did this every day, you picked up the two high-value tickets and then plucked a few others from the air for good measure.

Liza enjoys batter licked off of a beaterLife in our house has swirled around like the air in that cylinder. Every day you’re buffeted by new emotions and new experiences. It’s not going to get any slower. Next year you start kindergarten, and you’ll have to learn how to deal with a new group of people while adjusting to an amount of homework that gives me pause. As with Eli, I see the future in front of you and am both excited and afraid for you. But I see you in that rush of life moving past you, carefully and thoughtfully picking up opportunities as they move past, and I know you’ll do great.

Liza and Stephen as Liza swings on the monkey bars

To Eli on His Eighth Birthday

Your birthday celebration started on February 4th with a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga and will end some time around Christmas. The Tuesday after your birthday trip our friend Renèe gave you an awesome World of Goo-themed cake, undeterred by your reaction to the robot cake she made for your sixth birthday. May and Pop sent you presents, and the weekend after that, Mumsy came to visit. Pop Don and Nana Linda sent you presents after that. This is the longest your birthday fun has lasted, and if this trend continues, by 2018 you’ll still be celebrating your 2016 birthday.

Eli and his World of Goo Cake

The goo balls on your cake were appropriate, as you’re obsessed with video games. Every night you ask what video games we’re going to play (the current answer: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP). A while back you volunteered your own money to buy Angry Birds Rio for mom’s iPad so you could play it. The greatest day of your life was when we gave you your mom’s old iPod touch. You filled it with games and play it whenever you can. When you realized that it would play music too you looked at it as if to say, “If you could also create chicken nuggets I wouldn’t need those two adults to take care of me any more.”

You actually like games of all sorts. A month ago you went through a two-week obsession with chess. I have a set that your uncle Andrew and aunt Joy gave me years ago that sits in our bedroom collecting dust because chess is not nearly as fun as shooting zombies in the head. You’d occasionally asked to “play chess” before, but this time you were deadly serious. We pulled the chess set down and I explained how to play and why I was making the moves I was making. I won, of course. Even though I’m a terrible chess player, I’m still better than an eight-year-old who’s never played before, and there’s no enjoyment quite like beating such a worthy foe so completely. But you kept wanting to play more, and with every game we played you got better. We checked chess books out of the library to help you improve and found online versions so you could practice when I wasn’t home. Then, as quickly as your storm of excitement arose, it dissipated, thankfully before you got good enough to beat me.

Eli shakes hands with a Tusken Raider

Then there are board games. We’ve spent many nights playing Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne (“Meeples! Let’s play Meeples!”), and especially Forbidden Island, which uncle Andrew and aunt Joy got you. Forbidden Island is especially great because it’s a cooperative game, and let me tell you, cooperative games are so much better than the ones around when I was a child. Forbidden Island is a lot like Pandemic except that, if you lose the game, you don’t feel as if you’ve doomed the entire planet to death or, worse, to playing bit parts in a Stephen Soderbergh movie.

It echoes when I played board game with my dad. I remember being ferociously upset with him when he kept beating me at Monopoly, a game that is designed to grind down all players but the winner. May was in the kitchen and, hearing my weeping, called out to Pop: “You need to let him win!” “No!” Pop replied. “That’s giving him a false victory. It won’t encourage him to do better.” Now I’m in his position, playing chess against you and teaching you how to play while walking the narrow path between giving you false victories and crushing your desire to play.

Eli dressed as a ninja for Halloween

In many ways you’re a typical eight-year-old boy. Your taste in food is terrible. You’re still on the “no carb left behind” diet, eating all of the bread and chips you can find, but you also eat chicken nuggets and peanut-butter-and-Nutella sandwitches and not much else. I have to remind myself that I survived my 9th-grade year lunch diet of peanut butter, baloney, cheese, and raisin sandwiches, and if I’m going to throw stones at your eating habits I’ll shatter the glass Jif jar I lived in.

You also like a lot of things that your friends like. You dressed up as a ninja for Halloween, just like your friend Josh and one of his friends. Even your cousin Sam dressed up as a ninja in Kansas City. We spent all Halloween night desperately trying to keep track of you in your black costume. At one point we discovered that we’d somehow added another ninja we didn’t know about to our herd of kids, as if there is some law of attraction involving ninjas that’s reminiscent of how political opinions on Facebook attract arguments.

Eli's ginormous chicken finger and cheese biscuit sandwich

In other ways you’re very much your own person. You, your mom and Liza recently wrote on our giant bathroom mirror with dry erase markers. Your mom wrote a Bible verse that’s related to her new ministry. Liza drew a dog and wrote “UNOST” underneath it, for reasons known only to her. But you? You wrote “BLOODY MARY” three times on the mirror right where I look when I shave in the mornings.

Your music tastes run to ’80s-style rock, bands in the genre that your mom dismissively calls “chicks with guitars”, and electronic dance music. You’ve discovered the Tron: Legacy soundtrack and can’t stop listening to it. One day you were supposed to go to school dressed as your favorite rock star. Your mom and I couldn’t figure out how to make you look like either Daft or Punk.

Eli mugs for the camera

You’re still a big ham, completely unlike me. Whenever we pull out a camera you begin mugging for it. You have your quiet, contemplative moments, but when you know you’re being observed you tend to put on a show. Part of this grows out of your interest in people and your desire to entertain them. Like me, you’re a people-pleaser at heart. You want everyone to like you and are puzzled when they don’t. I hope you don’t lose that love of people as you grow older and have to deal with more of them who don’t care for you for whatever reason.

Eli shows off his Christmas gift of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

School continues to load you down with homework. You have words you have to learn how to spell, practice sentences you have to write, books to read, Accelerated Reader tests you have to take on the books you’ve read, math homework, and short stories that you must read as quickly as possible before answering comprehension questions about it. Thankfully you still love reading. Books have been my constant companion. Just now I looked through the list of Newbery medal winners and had a rush of nostalgia about many of the books I read when I was your age. I hope you have a love of reading and books that survives your schooling. Fortunately you realize the real purpose of school: to pick up all kinds of random thrown-away or lost detritus, like hair clips and pennies, and proudly show them off when you get home. Every day I ask, “How was school today?” and you tell me about the things you found on the ground and the games you played in P.E.

Eli and Liza and the giant frogs

When you’re not at school or doing homework you’re playing with Liza. The two of you continue to feed off of one another, at once simultaneously unable to do without the other and unable to stand the sight of the other. You’re adept at pushing her buttons, making her angry when she doesn’t do what you want, but you also watch out for her and protect her. And you are often lost without her. Liza occasionally creeps into your mom’s and my bed early in the morning to snuggle, something you can’t do because sleeping with you is like sleeping with an angry messenger bike running at full tilt. One morning when she was sleeping with us you wandered into our room, plaintively calling, “Liza? Where are you?” When she’s not around you mope.

Your independence is growing in leaps and bounds. You had your first sleep-over the night before Liza had early-morning surgery. Shortly after your seventh birthday we were eating at a restaurant with friends. I realized with a start that you were getting back in your seat after having gotten up, gone to the bathroom, and returned. This sounds mundane and stupid, I know, but it was a glimpse into the future when you will no longer need my day-to-day care. I no longer drive you to school; instead, you ride the bus. Some mornings you run out to wait for it without remembering to tell any of us goodbye.

Eli's wonderful smile

The challenge for me now is to let you grow into your own person while providing guidance to shape the person you’ll become. I see a lot of myself in you, and I wish I could save you from the mistakes you’re going to make. You, like me, find a lot of things easy to do, so you don’t want to do things you’re not good at the first time. Talent is fine and necessary, but work and perseverance are far more important in the long run. You rush through your schoolwork to get to play time faster, making silly mistakes in the process. You’re going to have to learn the hard way that, while success involves a lot of luck, it also requires a lot of time spent honing your skills. You’ll also have to learn that a lot of what’s worth doing requires you to push past discouragement and pain.

You’re getting there, though. You love the ocean; when we go to the beach for Thanksgiving you’d spend the entire time in the Gulf if possible. I’ve had to nearly drag you from the water, your lips blue and limbs trembling from the cold. This Thanksgiving you tangled with a jellyfish. Its tendrils wrapped around your arm, leaving welts that stung terribly. As we ran from the beach to the house tears streamed down your face. “I’m never going to get in the ocean again,” you sobbed. But thirty minutes later you told me, “You know, I think I’ll be okay, even if another jellyfish stings me.” The next day you waded fearlessly back out into the water.

Eli's jellyfish stings on his left arm

For me now, parenting is like being part of a convoy as it drives through fog. I can’t see the road ahead and I have only hazy memories of the miles we’ve traveled, and sometimes I can’t see everyone who’s on this journey with us. It’s part of why I write these letters. I am a lepidopterist of memories, capturing them and preserving them carefully in words and sentences and paragraphs. We are the stories we tell ourselves and each other. I want your stories to be as true as they can be, and for you to know who you were when you were still learning yourself.

Eli and Stephen and the Easter peeps

Eli, Liza and their cousins

From Kansas City to Geek Media Expo Vol. 3

We’ve been going from pillar to post the last few weeks. The bulk of our time was taken up preparing for and then taking a trip to Kansas City to see my brother and his family. Eli and Liza were very excited to see their cousins. The four of them immediately formed a band and posed for their first album cover.

Eli, Liza and their cousins

This is, of course, not how they normally behaved. This is how they normally behaved.

Eli, Liza and their cousins mug for the camera

You will be surprised to discover that Granade kids can be hams, I’m sure. We also got to hear a great concert of Virgil Thomson’s music. Thomson was a composer and music critic from Kansas City. The concert, which took place in the beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, was part of a planned PBS special. My brother the musicologist was one of the hosts, which meant he got to go up on stage and educate us about Thomson while also being funny.

Before the concert we went to Oklahoma Joe’s, a barbeque restaurant in a gas station. I didn’t include “housed in a gas station” in my rundown of how to choose a barbeque restaurant, but I should have: two of the best barbeque places I’ve eaten at were in gas stations. We dressed up for our night on the town, went to Oklahoma Joe’s, and then went to the concert smelling faintly of meat and awesome.

When we came back I headed to Geek Media Expo, where I did my usual guest schtick of talking about science, My Little Pony, and more science. Crispy and I taped our 100th episode of WhatTheCast there, complete with new theme music and several defunct Zunes to mark Microsoft’s ignominious withdrawal from the world of mp3 players, and the two of us provided sports commentary for the Race of the Tauntauns, in which our racers leapt around a ballroom in ThinkGeek tauntaun sleeping bags. This was highly entertaining, especially in the final race which involved two tauntaun racers checking each other, shoving each other into the ballroom’s pillars, and trying to step on the other racer’s tauntaun’s tail. I also did an unusual thing for me: I wore a costume for part of the convention. If I can find a picture of me being Jamie Hyneman, I’ll post it here. In the meantime, please enjoy this picture of me in my Super Saiyan form that Thomas Kerns took.

Stephen as a Super Saiyan

I’ve got video of my exoplanet talk which I’ll be posting later as well as the 100th episode of WhatTheCast. With luck, you’ll also get to see me wearing a beret and a scowl.

Lightning strike

Duck and Cover

Lightning strike
(Photo courtesy of WHNT19)

So this is what our day has been like. There’ve been storms, high straight-line winds, and the occasional tornado playing merry hob with us in and around Huntsville. To the south of my house, trees are down everywhere and the power’s out. On my way home I passed one house whose roof had been crumpled up and over it like the cover to a roll-top desk.

We’re all okay, though Eli and Liza are a little on edge from crouching in a hallway filled with pillows and blankets. “Will the tornado whirl us around and around and around?” Liza kept asking. There’s another batch of storms heading our way this afternoon. Wish us luck!

The Snow of Twenty Eleven

Snow day! You know what that means? It means we bundled the kids up in clothes until the excitement of going outside completely drained away.

Eli in his snow gearLiza in snow gear

We even joined in the non-fun!
Misty dressed in her snow gear

Eventually we made it outside and discovered that we’d gotten approximately two feet of snow.

My two feet in the snow.We had to make a snowman, which Liza spent some time peering at.

Liza looking at a lounging snowman

I made Eli pose with the snowman, by which I mean I pointed the camera at the snowman and Eli said, “Dad, take my picture too!”

Eli, Liza and the snowmanWe also had snow ice cream and snowball fights and walked around listening to the very silent city. We never get snow, not like this, so we’ve had a great time playing in it. Hey, people who live in snowier climes, is this what your life is like?

Weekend with LanaBob

Alana has been visiting us this weekend and we’ve had some big fun. Friday we went to Build-a-Bear to celebrate 50 years of Sanrio.


From left to right: Alana’s new Yorkie, Rooney, My Hello Kitty, Eli’s Keroppi, Liza’s Tropical Kitty, Liza and Eli. Notice Eli’s band-aid on his forehead, that’s where the stitches are.

Having LanaBob here when Eli smashed his head was invaluable. She cleaned up dinner (since we had just finished eating when it happened) and stayed with Liza while Stephen and I took him to the Urgent Care on the corner. Thanks, LanaBob!


This is dip night. When Alana visits, we always make at least one dip. This time we decided to have a whole dinner of dips. Clockwise from top left: pizza dip, spinach dip, salmon spread, cheese dip and spinach artichoke dip. It is all awesome and I’m going back to eat some now!