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January 30th, 2010 by Joyce

I don’t remember why or how it got there, but we’ve had a pot in the living room this week.

Carmen sits in it.  David suggests we can use it to keep pet fish.  And we can use it to make a terrific racket.

A racket.  Maybe that’s why I brought it out.  Last week David was drumming on a cardboard box with his drumsticks; I sent him outside to drum to his heart’s content.  He said he wanted a crash cymbal (he calls it, “cymbal on a stick with a screw on top”) and so I brought out a thin-walled pot.  Close enough.  A couple of days later I realized we had a pot sitting on our balcony, and brought it inside.

For some reason I didn’t put it away, and it just got mixed up with the water table (now officially a “sensory table” since it’s been full of rice all winter) and farm animals and blocks and everything else.  One day during lunch David realized he could wear it on his head to great effect.  (Why does he always come up with these ideas when he’s supposed to be EATING?)



Carmen saw that I snuck up on him with the camera, so she wanted to play with the pot, too.  Are you people done with your lunch?



Thursday morning the pot was still around.  It made it to the rice and had been used for filling and dumping and as a hazard for the hand-sized tractors half-buried in the grains.  My mom called; she was off from work and getting ready for a visit with her doctor later in the afternoon.  As we talked David skipped to the basket of musical instruments.  I paid no attention until the music started.  I held the phone in one hand and grabbed the camera with the other.



I liked the crescendo at the end there, David.  Nice touch.

My mom says that when my uncle turned six, my grandmother bought him a drum set.  I don’t remember the photograph well but I can imagine two snare drums, the crash cymbal, the foot drum.  The smiling boy and the rolled-up jeans.  I laugh.  First, my grandmother really was a saint.  Second, I realize my uncle has been playing drums (the big-boy kind, now) in garages, living rooms, and not-entirely-soundproofed upstairs rooms for more than half a century.

I need to find better earplugs.

Imitating dancing violinists on PBS.  Wanting to pick up a cello and double bass at the violin shop when we’ve just come in to swap out a bow.*  Banging rhythms out on the kitchen trash can, dining room table, the chairs, the dinner dishes, the wall, the couch.  Singing and banging on the bathroom door when he’s supposed to be going potty.  Using drumsticks on the pots and pans that Matt can’t find when he wants to cook some greens.

What is this?  Is this how it starts?  And where will it go?

* From a message I sent to a friend earlier in the week:

The other day we were at the shop and they asked for a cello. And they way they said it, it was like we were at the store and we on a whim decided to pick up a pound of bananas. Like, hey, let’s get a cello.

They also want a double bass. A really, really big one. They figured they could stand on a chair to play it.

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Happy Birthday

January 24th, 2010 by Joyce


New cowboy boots.


Pinata refresher with Matt as the demo. Just like last year, C&D refused to wear a bandana. Why make it harder?


And it was hard. My mom picked up the pinata at the grocery. The post-mortem revealed it was built like an octagonal cardboard box with a cardboard cross beam in the middle of it. The pinata was held together by packing tape and staples. What happened to bent bamboo skeletons wrapped up with newspaper? Yeah, you could poke your eye out, but at least you wouldn’t need the arms of the Incredible Hulk to break it open and send the candy flying into the lens of your uncle’s new video camera. (Yet another way yard candy is hazardous.)

IMG_1177  IMG_1178


After expending all those calories getting the pinata open (Mommy got to help, hurray), we were ready for cake.

One day in November C&D spied a pretty display of candy canes at Whole Foods.  They asked for one.  I said I would buy them each one, but keep it for later; we could eat it during Christmastime.  As we pushed our basket past the candy canes and into the bakery, C&D spied a chocolate cake with a big icing rainbow.  “Can we buy this now and keep it for our birthday?” asked David.  Our friend behind the counter came around and promised Carmen and David that she would decorate a rainbow cake for him come January.  Two months later C&D were ready for their a rainbow cake, decorated with two butterflies.


A few neighbors came over:  Bob and Sonya and Gordon and Monroe with our doggie-friend Louie.  We sang Happy Birthday and after blowing out the candles (ten, five candles for each) we dug in with three kinds of gelato on the side. 


Not a bad way to celebrate 5.

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Violin Class

January 21st, 2010 by Matt

After a video starts playing, the lower-right corner has a button to make it full screen.













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Wrong answer

January 21st, 2010 by Joyce

C&D love the book Pelle’s New Suit.  In the story Pelle discovers that his clothes have gotten too small.  He shears his sheep and then exchanges favors with his family and neighbors to get the wool cleaned, carded, dyed, woven, and finally sewn into a new suit.  The story serves as a nice example of self-sufficiency and community cooperation. 

So I felt pretty clever when I turned to Carmen late Tuesday afternoon and told her I had been working on getting a field trip set up for her new Clover Kids group.  We could have a “sheep to shawl” presentation with someone who would show us their fiber animals and then demonstrate all the steps required to take the wool and make a final product.  In fact, the woman I had spoken to that afternoon kept goats and said if we paid her a visit she would let us feed them a few treats.

No, Mommy,” she said with just a smidgen of exasperation in her voice, “I said I wanted a HORSE.”


I was thinking that in the past year David has requested pet ponies, chickens, bunnies, butterflies, donkeys, snails, starfish, sea horses (“sea hossies”), green anoles from our garden, hermit crabs from the beach, and just about anything else slow enough for him to catch and small enough to fit in a jar.  We’re working on the butterflies at the moment (Painted Lady caterpillars) and when we find a snail it’s usually dropped right into a jar.  The snails live until they’re forgotten and dry up or get accidentally tossed out (like when the green anoles were released back into their favorite lemongrass plant).  I thought about getting aquarium snails, but I’m guessing our living room will get too hot in the summer to prevent them from turning into escargot. 

Carmen suggested a puppy earlier this week, but she made it sound more like a consolation prize.  And I’m not sure she wants something that chews on her hands and barks at nothing.  Her idea of a dog is something like our neighbors’ lazy greyhounds, Early and Little Girl, or another neighbor’s lumbering aged golden retriever, who patiently tolerates pats and tugs from little hands.

For a few days this month we kept a couple of green anoles.  They lived in our lemongrass plant and when temps dipped below freezing they rode along with the plant inside.  After a day or two they got adventurous enough to wander out.  I was afraid I’d have two little lizards in my master bedroom so we caught them for our jar and watched them change colors as we moved the jar around the house.  We tried to feed them a mosquito (another stowaway), but they refused to perform such tricks.  When the weather warmed up they went back outside with the plant.

At C&D’s age I eagerly took in anything that had four legs and wandered down the street looking lost.  We had a generous yard, though, and my grandmother had flea shampoo on hand.   We also kept a cat (Fluffy), a coop full of hens (and for a while a naughty rooster named Junior) and at one time or another geese and ducks from the country and green talking parrots from Mexico.  Rabbits lived in a hutch until they got sick or eaten or both, I don’t remember.  A litter of kittens from my mom’s Aunt Lucy ran away or met their demise under the wheels of a car, I think.  When I was five my mom drove me (in her Chevy Nova with vinyl seats that got sticky in the summer) to someone’s house to select a puppy I named Flash after the dog in The Dukes of Hazzard. 

(I won’t forget the plants, either, all hand-watered and fertilized every now and then with a blue powder mixed in water.  No wonder I majored in Biology in college.)

They were good company, all those animals, and lots of fun.  Even though we’re not turning our house into a zoo anytime soon, I think I understand when C&D declare they can potty-train a pony.  That wish to nurture is a phase of childhood, or maybe just a bad case of genes.

This week we were talking and Matt said something about goats.  I said out west of here one could buy one for $50, or $35 for a cabrito goat.  “I’m impressed,” he said, “that you actually know how much those cost.”  Well, yeah, I answered, I remember seeing the signs we passed when we rode our bikes out and around Fort Bend County.  Didn’t he remember? 

If you harbor secret desires to own one, I guess you naturally keep track of how much a pet goat would set you back.

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January 17th, 2010 by Matt · 3 Comments

Saturday C&D attended a Suzuki workshop. None of us really knew what to expect, except that there would be a lot of children and we needed to show up at noon. Oh, and at the end there would be a concert of the students demonstrating what they had learned.

In the first session, C&D danced and played with about twenty children and a Dalcroze instructor. In the second, they received a semi-private lesson from a violin instructor. For the last, they prepared for their role in the concert. The instructor explained that the children–a few young students and a group of children from a school outside the city–were going to practice a rhyme with their bow, set their violins on their shoulders, play a short E-string concerto and then play all five Twinkle rhythms on the E string. Matt and I stood up from our seats at the back of the room. C&D had never set their violins on their own shoulders and hadn’t practiced all five rhythms. This was going to be interesting.

As concert time approached we watched C&D struggle to place their violins on their shoulders. The instructor moved quickly and they couldn’t figure out how she moved the violin from the crook of her right elbow to her left hand and then, what? She put the violin on her head, slid the button of the violin to her ear, and then slid the violin to her shoulder. C&D turned their violins over and around, placed them on their shoulders and then scrunched over their instruments, trying not to drop them. After a few go-rounds they could manage well enough.

With a few minutes left to the class, the students began practicing playing their Twinkle rhythms as a group. An accompanist played the piano part, the instructor played the melody to one of the five variations of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and the students were supposed to follow along on the E string only, E-E-E-E E-E. I watched C&D follow along and after the second variation, I noticed David using the other strings, and then using the fingerboard, too,
on the violin we just got on Wednesday,
that doesn’t even have tape on it to tell him where to press,
and despite the fact he doesn’t even know how to play Twinkle, Twinkle, anyway.
The violins hadn’t all been tuned and with noise plus the squeaky chaos of the day I grew nauseous. But I couldn’t help smiling, big. After the practice David handed me the violin and said full of pride, “I played all the notes! And it sounded really GOOD!”

We packed up our instruments and rushed to the concert. When after several performances it was their turn Carmen slid off my lap and smiled; she had been waiting for this moment all afternoon. She and David walked up onto the stage with about forty other children and began to play.

First, the E Concerto (this video is about a minute). Love Carmen’s shoes?



A higher resolution (and slower to download!) version of the same thing:



And then the five Twinkle variations on the E string. This video is about five minutes. Notice David going all Andre Rieu on us not even halfway through.



A higher resolution (and slower to download!) version of the same thing:



Is this how it is, being four, almost five? Carmen and David aren’t limiting themselves to growing up to become the audience. They see themselves on a stage of no bound, bringing music and movement of their own to the world. I’ve loved their being four; some mornings, when we’re all in bed and giggling, I wish they could stay four forever. But then I wonder–what are they going to teach me when they’re five?

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This, too

January 15th, 2010 by Joyce · 1 Comment

I can find the most wonderful non-news on the web page for Houston’s only major newspapaper, the Houston Chronicle.  Mostly this is because lists posts from their bloggers as news.  One of their best is kept by Kyrie O’Connor, the newspaper’s deputy managing editor.  I can’t imagine what her job looks like, but she somehow finds time to post interesting pop-culturey bits that she’s discovered or that people have sent to her.

Today she posted a music video by the band OK Go.  While I was in grad school OK Go released a cover called “Antmusic.”  I loved it maybe especially because those in the lab adjacent to me studied, among other things, social insects.  You know, like ants.

You don’t have to appreciate a thing about social insects to like the video for a song off their new album.  Give it a watch and a listen.  I think I’ve found my anthem for 2010.


OK Go – This Too Shall Pass from OK Go on Vimeo.

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If the weather gives you freezing temperatures,

January 11th, 2010 by Joyce

make snowflakes.

IMG_1128Some of last week’s art work.  Most were cut on tissue paper—the tissue was hard for C&D to fold, but easy to cut.  My favorite were made out of old work drawings, however.   C&D made all of them except for a couple, you can probably guess which.

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