Friday, December 31, 2010

Pensacola Trip 2010: Days Two, Three, and Four, Pensacola, FL

The last three days here in Pensacola have been a whirlwind of walking along the beach, feeding the seagulls, and going to the Gulf Breeze zoo, among many other more mundane activities. Here are a few pictures from it all:








Tomorrow morning we will pack up and start the drive home. We'll be stopping for the night in Montgomery, AL, and then finishing the trip on New Year's Day.

See you next year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pensacola Trip 2010: Day One, Greenville, AL

We're about two-thirds of the way to Pensacola right now; we spent the night at the Comfort Inn in Greenville, AL, which is where we are now.

We left yesterday afternoon around 4:15, stopped for coffee at a RaceTrac in Lithonia, and drove for 100 miles before we stopped for dinner at a Waffle House east of Auburn. We found out that Elyse does NOT like to travel at night; after we left the Waffle House, she cried and screamed and screamed and cried until we got to the Books-A-Million in Opelika (a good place to stop for evening snack, since they have a decent cafe). She did get to sleep fairly quickly after we left the Books-A-Million, and slept the whole night through, barely waking up when we brought her into the hotel. Jessica also barely woke up when we came in, though she had some trouble sleeping through the night.

This morning, though, Elyse was just delighted to find herself in a strange hotel. Anna and Jessica had gone down for breakfast, but when Elyse woke up, she looked around, gave a quizzical baby "Huh?", and started smiling and clapping and waving. She thought it was just great that we were on a road trip!

We'll be leaving Greenville in about forty-five minutes, around 9:30 a.m. local time, with an eye toward reaching Pensacola around noon.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Family Christmas Pictures

We took advantage of Anna's parents' recent visit to take some formal pictures. Here are a few of them:





Here are Jessica and Elyse with their grandmothers:


And with the grandfathers:


And here--trying to fit ourselves into a space that's really too small for seven people, even if two of them are very little people--is the whole lot of us:


(Before I attempt a group shot like this again, I'm going to get a king-size sheet and three more feet of PVC pipe.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: A Meaningful Christmas

          Among the many things I love about Christmas are the holiday kids’ shows—“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and all the rest. I’ve been watching them for as long as I can remember, close to forty years at least, and I never tire of them. But, love them though I do, I also find something disturbing and sad in many of them.
          There is at the core of many of the Christmas kids’ shows the idea—or, in the inner reality of these shows, the actuality—that Santa Claus is in charge of Christmas, and that the True Meaning of Christmas is that Santa Claus comes in the night and leaves you a Heavenly Host of presents, all the things from the Sears Wish Book you wanted...or at least enough things to make you forget about the ones you didn’t get. I’m sure that for most of my childhood, that’s exactly how I thought of Christmas: it was about getting new toys.
          But now, as a middle-aged man who is a bit more pensive, and who has at least a yearning towards some kind of meaningful spirituality, these shows make me sad, and perhaps a bit indignant. For all of its beauty and whimsy and wonder, “Rudolph,” which was the first of the Rankin-Bass stop-motion holiday shows, and which I loved so much as a kid, sends a decidedly un-Christmas message: when a terrible storm comes up, limiting vision and making travel by reindeer-powered flying sled ill-advised, Santa says, “I’m just going to have to cancel Christmas.” And in “The Year without a Santa Claus” (most notable for the Miser Brothers and their Vaudeville-era leitmotifs), Santa decides that he isn’t feeling “up to snuff,” and that nobody much cares about the holiday anymore, so he’s going to “call off Christmas.”
          So there you have it: Christmas isn’t a deeply meaningful celebration, instead it’s something that can be cancelled because of illness or the weather, like a football game or a day of school or a concert. It isn’t really a holiday at all, in the original sense of the term—Holy Day—it’s just an elaborate party...but not a birthday party, of course, and certainly not a party for a major spiritual leader whose actual birthday we don’t really know, but whose birth and life are still worth pondering in our hearts every year. No, Christmas is Santa’s gig, and he can cancel it if he feels under the weather or intimidated by the weather or just unloved, and let the little kiddies scrape together their own toys.
          When Jessica and I watch these shows together—which we’ve been doing since July—I tell her, “Santa Claus can’t really cancel Christmas. This is just a made-up show. Santa Claus isn’t really in charge of Christmas, and Christmas is about more than just Santa coming and giving you toys.” She focuses on these shows pretty intently, so I don’t know how much she hears when I’m talking, but I hope it’s getting through at least a little bit.
          Christmas to me is about (“apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that,” as Scrooge’s nephew Fred says): a wide range of wonderful music, from the Tallis Scholars’ version of the fourteenth-century carol “Ther is No Rose of Swych Vertu” to “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”; fanciful and often tacky displays of lights on houses and inflatable sleds on lawns and lighted animated wire-frame reindeer up on roofs; lots of Noel knick-knacks at Hobby Lobby (though that’s been going on since July, too); reading a little bit of A Christmas Carol to Anna every night before we go to bed; egg nog lattes at Borders; watching Christmas in Connecticut and It’s a Wonderful Life; lighting our Advent wreath every night before supper and doing a reading...and a good many other joyous things. I believe I could be just as happy, maybe happier, if instead of exchanging gifts on Christmas day we just got together with our families to appreciate all the other wonderful things.
          In his great book Hundred Dollar Holiday, Bill McKibben says that he is “unwilling to turn Christmas over to the forces of the secular world—to the people with something to sell. Christmas is too much fun for that.” Christmas very nearly has been turned over to the people with something to sell, but if we are to wrest it back before every iota of meaning and depth is squeezed out of it like juice from a Norfolk Biffin, a good place to start would be to remind Santa that he is but a floor manager, not the CEO of the whole shebang. He can enhance Christmas, but he doesn't control it, and it would go on just fine without him. What I’m saying, I guess, is that we need a kiddy-show Santa with a little less hubris, and a little more humility.
          Am I mad at Santa? No, of course not. I’m mad at the people who write and produce these shows, who flatten Christmas and squeeze the meaning and depth out of it and reduce it to a fat man in a red suit with a team of talented reindeer.
          There are, of course, some Christmas shows that don’t promote the Christmas-equals-Santa notion. “The Little Drummer Boy” grounds Christmas in Luke’s story of the Nativity. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is a tale of growth and redemption, of the Grinch’s discovery that “maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store”; it is willing to assert that “Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” And of course the best of all is “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” in which young Charlie Brown is troubled by the same problems that I am writing about here. Linus’s recitation of Luke 2:8-14 (“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”) never fails to bring tears to my eyes.
          I’m not willing to give up “Rudolph,” of course. It’s too much fun for that. And it does contain within it some pretty good messages about individuality, acceptance, and friendship. But “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has taken an appropriate place on the periphery of my Christmas activities, even if it is near the center of my daughter’s. I’m glad I get to experience it, and all the other shows, through her. I just hope I can teach her that there is so much more to Christmas than that.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Granny's Bible

Here are five pictures from a photographic study I did of my mother's fifty-year-old Bible (which has ended up somehow amongst all our books):





Friday, December 3, 2010

Four Pictures of Elyse

Here are four recent pictures of Elyse, which I took while I was entertaining her so Anna and Jessica could work on their gingerbread house:





(In this one she is, as you can see, in mid-clap. She likes to clap. Yaaaayyy, gingerbread house! Yaaayyy, Daddy's camera! Yaaayyy, Elyse!)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Forty Years

Here's a picture of me from more than forty years ago:


And here's a picture of me from just a few minutes ago:

(I really wish I had a yellow turtleneck and a plaid sweater vest to wear for this picture.)

Forty years. (Sigh.) Where did it all go?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jessica's Students

Tonight, as Jessica was playing before snack time, she lined up many of her furry and plastic friends on the sofa and told us they were her students, and that she would be teaching a diving class:


Fortunately, the actual diving never took place. The reason it's fortunate is because we don't happen to have a pool in our living room.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Elyse is Ten Months Old! also, Jessica and the Big Leaf

On Friday, November 19th, Elyse was ten months old! Here she is on Mommy's knee, showing off her new princess ballerina pajamas:


Over the weekend we went to Vines Gardens for a mid-Fall picnic. Jessica found a remarkably large leaf:




This is what Vines Gardens looks like in the fall:


Of course, most of the trees are evergreens, and this was fairly late in fall--almost exactly a month away from the beginning of winter, in fact--so the splendid autumn colors are not as in evidence here as they are in other places at other times. Still, the trees in the upper left of the picture give a sense of how majestic fall can be.

Also, if you look closely enough you'll notice that there's a gathering on the steps just beneath the red and orange and golden leaves. An extended family was posing there for a series of family portraits, including one of the grandparents and their twenty-one grandchildren.

There's a general truism that if you go to Vines Gardens and there are more than five cars in the parking lot, there'll be at least one photo session going on. The day we were there, I counted no fewer than five photo sessions. One was a couple and their three dogs, one of whom, a Basset hound named (I believe) Cash, made a break for it just as we walked by. But, being a Basset hound, he got only about fifty feet before he was content to sit down and let himself be caught.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

As Soft and Gentle as a Sigh

Not that I ever doubted it, but it turns out that Dolly Parton was right, love is like a butterfly:


Monday, November 15, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year! 3

'...I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round...as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.'

--Ebenezer Scrooge's nephew in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

This morning, Jessica found an empty cardboard box we had set by the back door to throw away. She took it and told me she was going to put some of her toys in it, "to send to the little kids whose mommy and daddy can't afford toys."

God bless us, everyone.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Busy Little Beaver

This morning on "The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That," the Cat in the Hat whisked the two kids he's always having adventures with off to watch a group of beavers build a dam. "They're building a dam!" he would exclaim. And when the dam sprang a leak, the Cat and the kids helped the beavers repair it with mud. When it was all finished, the Cat proclaimed, "Now this river is dammed!"

Perhaps you can see where this is going.

Later, while I was changing Elyse's diaper and getting her into some clothes--quite a challenge these days--Jessica was playing in the corner of Elyse's room, pulling down clothes we had stacked on Elyse's dresser and piling them on the floor.

"You have a busy little beaver!" Jessica told me. "And she's building a dam."

She started taking shoes out of a box, shoes that are way too small for her but which Elyse isn't quite ready for, and lining them up on the floor. I was busy trying to convince Elyse to squirm in ways that are conducive to getting arms in sleeves and socks on feet, so I can't tell you exactly what Jessica said. But I think it was something like this:

"These are all my dammed shoes."

I assure you that she got that phrase from this morning's episode of the Cat in the Hat, not from anything she ever heard me say once upon a time when I was struggling to get those same shoes on her wriggling little feet.

I just hope that if she plays Busy Little Beaver at preschool tomorrow, she makes it clear to her teachers that that's what she's doing.

I also hope that if the kids on the show have a dog, it's not a Shih Tzu.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Elyse

All that crawling,
all that cruising.
Her thighs, once
plump with
doughy rolls,
are slimming down.

Faster than I want,
my baby's growing up.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year! 2

I've already written about my love of egg nog. Here's another reason I love Christmas:


I bought this little guy--he's about five inches tall--at Dollar Tree for (of course) a dollar.

It's not that I have a great affection for cheap and tacky gimcracks, though in fact I do. It's that I love the iconography of Christmas, both religious and secular--Santa Claus, Christmas trees, snowmen, candy canes, angels, Nativity sets and crèches, and all the rest. I love the color and fun and magic of it. I love the notion that for a few weeks leading up to December 25, our society glows, quite literally, with childlike innocence and wonder.

Sure, it may be superficial, and it may be commerce-driven rather than beauty-driven--sadly, much of the sheen of Christmas is intended to encourage people to trade their hard-earned money for something they don't necessarily need, or even want--but I choose to revel in the gaudy marvelousness rather than shake my head cynically at the tackiness and commercialization.

Wonderful means literally full of wonder, and wonder, in this sense, means "the quality of exciting amazed admiration." That, dear friends, is what I aspire to at Christmastime: exciting amazed admiration. I think Christmas is wonderful.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

One of the many reasons I love Christmas--and not the most important one, mind you--and yes, I do realize that we haven't even had Halloween yet--is because of the egg nog that is in abundance at that time of year and no other. I love egg nog any way you can have it: by itself, in coffee, in cake...sometimes I even shampoo with it. And guess what Walmart is already selling?


So, as far as I'm concerned, let the Christmas season begin!

(I don't really wash my hair with egg nog, by the way.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nine Months Old!

Today, Elyse is nine months old! It's hard to believe. It seems like just a few weeks ago that we were in the hospital getting ready for her arrival, and here she is already 75% of the way to the end of her first year.

Here are some pictures we took to commemorate this milestone:





As you can see, Elyse can stand on her own pretty well. She's not actually walking yet, but she can crawl like a pro, and we expect her to chasing after her sister--on two legs--any time now.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rock City

On Saturday, we took a whirlwind one-day trip to visit one of my favorite places, Rock City Gardens (which Jessica remembers from our visit two years ago as the place with the "deep, dark cave that sings Mother Goose"). It's about a three hour drive from our house in Loganville, but the girls slept for most of the first two hours, until we stopped for breakfast at a Waffle House in Dalton. It was nearly noon by the time we made it to Lookout Mountain, but we were (mostly) ready for a day of fun.

Here are the girls sitting by a wall of the kind of rock formation that Rock City was named for:


And here are Anna and Elyse sitting at a table somewhere along the trail:


This is what the precipice they call Lover's Leap looks like:

(While we were there, however, no lovers leapt.)

When you first enter Mother Goose Village (the deep, dark cave that sings Mother Goose), the famous Goose herself greets you:


Among many other sights in Mother Goose Village, you will see Little Miss Muffet having the dickens scared out of her by a spider, and Humpty Dumpty, pre Great Fall:




I love Rock City, and commend anyone who visits to double the hour and a half to two hours the brochures tell you it takes to go through. Try to make your visit as long as possible, not as short, and to appreciate as much of it as you can. Remember the words of Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, when he describes the trip that the book (in part) describes:
We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on “good” rather than “time” and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes.
At Rock City, as is so often the case in life, you should try to make good time rather than good time. Or, as Henry David Thoreau once wrote,
Nothing can be more useful to a man [or woman, or child] than a determination not to be hurried.
Take your time, and enjoy the walk, and the view, and the company of the people you're with.
Here ends my sermon for the day.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dressing Your Friends

Jessica likes to dress her stuffed-animal friends up in her clothes (and quite often lately, Elyse's clothes—they do tend to fit better). Here we see Giraffe, Puppy, and a dragon (he doesn't actually have a name, not even Dragon) all dressed up and sitting together on our sofa:


You may notice that the dragon is wearing a Winnie-the-Pooh sleeper. Here's a close-up of Puppy in Jessica's Tinkerbell nightie:



It may not be too long before Jessica decides she wants to dress up Elyse. It will certainly be interesting to see how she reacts to that!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Girls

We made some portraits of the girls for Granny's birthday, and here are the best of them: