Friday, December 30, 2011

Dawn of a new year

Well, a new year is just about upon us. That means a time to reflect on the year that was and the year that will be.

First off, we are blessed and have much to be thankful for. We have two great, healthy and growing boys, we have loving families and friends, we own a house that is not underwater, we are never in want for food, and although there is inevitably something we'd like to have or somewhere we'd like to go, we have so much already. We have our faith, thanks to a neat church with fun, caring people. We have much to sustain us. Life, on balance, is good.

Not that there aren't trying moments. If you ask me without thinking to come up with two words to describe 2011, I would probably say fatigue and patience. Fatigue, and I mean the overwhelming kind, is a direct result of overseeing, guiding, managing, teaching, loving, nurturing, counseling, disciplining, nursing, shushing, bathing, picking up after, cleaning up after, running after, and repeating many of the same steps over and over and over again. It is nonstop, and it is taxing.

Hence, the fatigue. Yet in this fog of too little sleep and too much stress is a bounty of rewarding moments, small and large. In Nathaniel's world, the changes in 2011 have come fast and furious: New words and phrases – "That's disgusting," "You're silly," "Santa Claus" and the consequences of being naughty. New songs, many of them learned at school – "the clean up song," which goes: "Clean it up, (cluck tongue twice), clean it up/ you can make it fun to do, and your friends can help you, too/ clean it up, clean it up." A new way to sit, "Crisscross, applesauce," to deter him from squatting in the inverted "W" position, which is supposedly bad for hip development. New books – The "Little Critter" series, Dr. Seuss and others. Increased coordination: Shooting a basketball by holding the ball over his head and aiming it for the hoop, learned after watching one of Uncle Matt's players shoot a free throw in a game. New dance moves: from pirouettes learned by watching dancers at a downtown holiday festival to break dance moves learned from who knows where. This is just a taste of all that our 3-year-old picked up in 2011. I can only imagine that the learning will only accelerate in 2012.

As for Isaiah, the list may not be as long, but the advances are equally noteworthy. He can bounce a ball and corral it with admirable coordination. He can "sprint crawl," meaning that he can hustle floor bound nearly as quickly as some can walk. He can take a few halting, wobbly steps at a time. He can eat – boy, can he eat! Isaiah packs away as much as Nathaniel and frequently, even more. He stuffs so much into that little mouth of his that his cheeks bulge like a chipmunk's. Sometimes, he packs food in so rapidly that he chokes himself. I'm not kidding. With the synchronized rhythm of both hands moving food to mouth, it's like watching an assembly line of eating. The kid packs it away, and he has the belly to show for it. And, when the feeding has ended, Isaiah is always the most content person in the room. He beams, he laughs, he coos. Like his daddy, few things make him happier than having conquered a good meal. At 1, I would imagine that the appetite will remain in high gear in 2012. We can expect a slew of other milestones from our youngest in the new year.

I am glad to be a witness to it.

Happy new year, everyone!




Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Iowa

Merry Christmas, everyone, from Iowa. We're in the Hawkeye State yet again for this special time, celebrating a very important birth with Michelle's family, Midwesterners through and through. Like many other parts of the northern United States, this Christmas seemed to sneak up on us, fooled by a stretch of unseasonably warm weather in December. Even here in Cedar Rapids, there is no snow on the ground on Christmas in as long as many can recall, which has underscored the oddity of it all. Despite the relative warmth, it's always great to know there's a time when family travel home to reconnect and enjoy each other's company.

This Christmas has been especially gratifying, because our boys are having a ball with their cousin, Kenley, who comes courtesy of one of Michelle's brothers and our sister-in-law. Kenley is about a year and a half, between Nathaniel (3) and Isaiah (14 mos.). She and Nathaniel have just reached the ages where they recognize each other and play together, albeit intermittently and with regular bouts over each other's toys. Still, it's a start to a beautiful friendship, and by next year, Isaiah also will be in the thick of it. Watching the cousins is clearly a highlight of visiting.

So, while it may not feel necessarily like Christmas, I would suggest that the warmth of family and the joy of cousins frolicking to and fro are largely what Christmas is all about. And we have that in spades.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Two Birthdays

Well, that was quite a break. Not really sure what happened there. There was Thanksgiving, then my birthday (on a Wednesday ... ugh) and who knows what else. Life intervenes, like a sodden guest who staggers into your home each night. Oh yeah, and the whole family is sick. What fun!

Yes, the sickness bug has the Lewises in its clutches. These times are trials, really: The children unable to understand why they feel so crappy. The parents gnash their teeth as the little ones spin out of control, trying to keep themselves composed amidst grand, theatrical and emotional unraveling. It's a tightrope.

I think we've negotiated that thin line pretty well in previous episodes. Or, perhaps my memory is blocking out the unpleasantness of it all. Anyway, this wave has seemed particularly intense. As evidence, I offer my wife.

For the past two days, when I have arrived home from work, Michelle has bolted from the house. The first time, she took off to the grocery store. The second time, she took off early to her job, which normally she would wait until the last possible moment to go in. The reason? The children, sick and cranky, are driving her mad.

It's uncharacteristic behavior from Michelle, who is as stalwart and stoic as they come. So, Nathaniel and Isaiah really must be doing a number on her. The thing is, it just seems as if they have colds, no fever for either at any point. But they've been miserable, and for the days that Michelle has been home alone with them, they've made things miserable for her, too. Isaiah has been clutchy, wailing if he is not being held at all times. Nathaniel is wrapped in this death spiral in which the worse he feels, the more he resists sleeping. Remember my point about not being able to understand that you're sick? Natty doesn't get it that the best thing he can do for himself is rest. So, you have little mister cling-on and little mister hyper-erratic. Take your pick. Better, take 'em both.

Compounding all this, we're desperately trying to get them better (and ourselves, too) before we make our annual, Christmastime road trip to Iowa. That's 22 hours in the vehicle, folks. We don't want crying children.

Well, that was a lot of pissing and moaning. Let's end this post on a happier note, shall we? With that, here are some oh-so-fun pictures from Nathaniel's oh-so-fun outdoor birthday party with a bounce house that we bought at discount. Isaiah also had a fine birthday, feted with cake and ice cream and family. His bounce house birthdays are to come.



Natty bouncing


Bouncing with neighborhood friends


Let him eat cake


Isaiah at one

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Concert with Daddy

Nathaniel celebrated turning 3 on Saturday. More on his party, and the absolute joy I felt in helping to throw it, in a later post, when we get pictures and video.

The following day, Sunday, I took Nathaniel to a concert. It was a bit of a gamble. About a week before, I spied an ad in a local monthly about "power drumming" groups on a tour from south Asia. The pictures showed individuals and groups smacking what looked like bongos and congas. Since Nathaniel sees me do this with the musical ensemble at church and loves drums (and music, in general), I thought it would be nice for him to see how professionals do it. But I wasn't sure whether this would be the proper setting.

So I called the group that was organizing the concert in Providence. The nice lady on the other end of the line didn't have much information, but she did direct me to a web site called caravanserai, which showed me some of these performers in action. I still didn't know exactly who was coming, but the ticket prices were reasonable and there was an intermission after about 45 minutes, which gave me the option to cart Natty home if he was bored by then. So, I went for it.

On Sunday evening, Daddy took Nathaniel on his special night out. We got to the amphitheater just in time, found some seats and settled in. The first performer was a gentleman from Pakistan, I believe, who sat squat legged on a slightly elevated platform covered in carpets and two small bongo-like drums. He used his fingers almost exclusively to pound out beats and sounds, a rhythmic thrumming like you might do on your desk, but much, much more sophisticated. To my surprise, Nathaniel enjoyed the performance, standing the whole time and dutifully clapping energetically after each piece. I say surprised because while the drumming was indeed exceptional, I figured a 3-year-old would not be terribly impressed by a sitting man playing with his fingers. I was wrong.

After a brief pause, two long-haired gentleman from India came on to the stage. They were dressed in light robes and one of them was barefoot. The drums they held were enormous, fat tubes hanging around their waists, positioned parallel to the ground. Each struck the drum from both sides; in one hand, each held an instrument that looked like a sickle and in the other what appeared to be a drumstick. They began playing, and, well, they had Nathaniel from the first beat. He stood there, transfixed, as the drumming intensified, and one of the men began spinning, faster and faster, until the oversized drum was swinging tautly suspended from his waist, gripped by centrifugal force. Then, as he was spinning, the other drummer inserted the strap of his drum into the spinning drummer's mouth, and now the guy was spinning and pounding on one drum, while the other was flying behind him.
Let me tell you, it all made for great theater, a spectacle so intense that I thought Nathaniel's head was going to pop off. He was swaying to the beat, rhythmically clapping his hands to the drumming. Watching him, I couldn't help but smile widely. My boy was having so much fun!




What did you think? Pretty cool, huh? It was even better live. Nathaniel was pretty jazzed after that, so I decided we'd stick it out through intermission and see the next act. That was quite good, too, featuring a group of singers, percussion and an instrument that sounded somewhat like an accordion. Enough to keep Natty's attention, for the most part.

Afterward, I asked him if he liked it. "Yeah," he replied softly, still caught up in the moment.

So, I'm here to report that concert night with Daddy went swimmingly. You know, Nathaniel likely won't remember going, but I will, and it was a fine, fine night with my oldest son.

Days later as Michelle was driving the boys from the children's museum, she asked Nathaniel what "fun thing" he'd like to do after quiet time. "Go to a concert with Daddy," he said.

Guess he remembers it after all. And fondly, at that.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Home

Last Saturday at 6 a.m. a group of wanderers all but fell into the house, wrung out from the road.

My family was home.

Indeed, Michelle, ably supported by her sister, had driven with the children non-stop from Iowa back to New England. Their trip, thankfully, was uneventful. But it may not have been.

That's because, as those in the northeast U.S. surely know, that a rare October snowstorm was bearing down just as the gang was journeying eastward. I didn't even know about this Nor'easter until I was watching the national nightly news. Concerned, I went on the web and checked out the forecast at various points along Michelle's route. It did not look pretty, at least if you're driving. The midsection of Pennsylvania, for example, was expected to get up to 10 inches of snow. This, it goes without saying, would make for some tough sledding, especially for a sleep-deprived crew.

I checked the forecast for upstate New York. To my surprise, it called for clouds, with only a 20-30 percent chance of mostly rain. Heartened, I called Michelle. She, her sister and the boys had just passed Cleveland. In just several miles, they could veer north and hop on to Interstate 90.

It turned out to be a good move. Pennsylvania got dumped by snow. Meanwhile, upstate New York stayed nice and dry, and our gang motored on through, unimpeded, although bone-tired, to our little bayside town.

I was so, so happy to see everyone. It is hard to describe how much I missed them. I felt this odd sensation the full 10 days they were gone, truly as if a piece of me had been physically ripped from my being and taken away. I only got that piece of me back when they returned.

Despite the joy, everyone came back in varied states of illness. Which means that not only were the boys antsy and out of sorts from their long trip, but they were a little strung out from coughs and colds. The honeymoon doesn't last long, now does it? And, yes, by Monday, I had succumbed to the germs, coming down with a nasty cold myself that I think I'm just coming out of.

Whatever. I'll take the cold and the cough – so long as my family remains after delivering them. I am that glad they are home.




Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dazed in a maze


I'm officially a week alone in this 'ol house. Michelle and the boys are, by all accounts, having a grand time with grandmother, great-grandmother and aunt, as well as a visit from another aunt, an uncle and a cute button of a cousin. So far, they've been to visit great-grandmother's house, a century farmhouse with a big barn full of larger-than-life farm equipment like tractors and combines that fairly blew Nathaniel's mind. Tonight, he informed the tractor was so big that he had to climb stairs to get into the driver's seat.

How cool is that for a 3-year-old?

I can't describe how happy I am that he, his brother Isaiah, and of course mommy Michelle are enjoying themselves so thoroughly, and that all those family folks are enjoying them being there. I also can't describe how utterly lonely it is to patter around an empty house. So far, caveman Richard has foraged well for grub; I've cooked hamburgers, tacos with a chicken, bean, green chilies and onion mixture that I cooked in a skillet, eggs and bacon, salads and cereal. And fruit – apples, grapes and bananas. I have yet to go out for a nighttime meal. Not bad, huh? (Cue the applause – and the back patting). So, while I've survived just fine, thank you very much, it's been little more than that. Damn, I'm bored. It doesn't help that college basketball hasn't started.

Michelle did leave with me some tasks (I think she called them fun things to do), and so far I'm on schedule to get them all done. I refinished a dresser for Isaiah, mowed the lawn, stored the window A/C units and other chores. I've even kept the house fairly clean. In fact, the dishwasher is running as we speak. (pat, pat on my back) And to top it all off, I didn't watch a single play of professional football on Sunday. I actually had too much to do. I'm not kidding.

I also have not frequented any watering holes. Even on Saturday night, which would have been the time to do it, I failed to journey to a bar and soak in some local color (and college football). I might have, except I was stuck in a corn maze, of all things.

I went to the corn maze with a church youth group that I help lead. We arrived just as the sun was setting and hopped on a hay ride, which ferried us to the maze. Two boys chose me as their chaperone and into the maze we went. I was ill-prepared for the adventure. I brought no flashlight and was wearing a light jacket, even though fall had definitely arrived in New England. All went well at first; I let the boys pick the paths, each alternately saying, "I like this one" and away we went. After a while, I took note of the setting sun and smugly set my internal compass based on a tree line to the north, a cell phone tower to the west and a clearing to the east. "No problem," I thought to myself. "I know from what direction we entered the maze, and I know what direction we need to get out, and I know what direction we'll be heading at all times. Piece of cake."

Satisfied, I continued to let the boys lead the way, choosing paths on a whim. We stopped and read the signs, full of all sorts of corn facts. We stopped at the hole punch stations and dutifully punched our cards, the goal being to get all four punches and be entered in a raffle. It was a lovely, crisp fall evening, the boys were joyously gallivanting around, and I was happy. A nice way to spend a Saturday night, after all.

We snaked our way northward in the maze and then headed west, which I had surmised we needed to go before turning south and then south by southwest to exit. And then things got more complicated. We saw a sign and headed down a path. Within a few minutes, we arrived back at the same sign. "Aw, we went in a circle," one of the boys said. So, we tried another path. After some twists and turns, there we were again, at the sign. I scratched my head. "OK," I said, "Let's go this way," and off we went. Some more twists and turns, and again, that sign. We tried another path, and, again, the same result. Another path. Same sign. Another path. Sign. No matter what direction we took, we could not escape that sign. Dumbfounded, I just stared at the sign, looking at the paths and trying to figure out if there was any path we hadn't took. The joy had been erased from the boys' faces, replaced by exasperation. "Where should we go, Mr. Lewis?" they asked, expecting me to magically extricate ourselves. But I had no clue. I was stumped, annoyed and mildly pissed. "How hard can this be?" I thought.

I took stock of our place in the maze, the direction we ultimately needed to go to exit and set off on a southwest path. After much meandering, I'll be darned if we didn't end up again at that bloody sign. The boys started whimpering a little. I was flushed with embarrassment and more than a little pissed. Then, I saw an older man loitering nearby, and I asked him how we get out. An employee, he looked at me and said, "You're in the cow's mouth." I just looked at him, mouth agape. "What'd he just say? I'm in the cow's mouth?" He looked at me and said matter of factly, "You need to circle around the mouth to get out."

It was then that I realized that I had a map in my pocket. The map, if you can call it that, is a sketch of the maze. On it is written, "Do not rely on this map. It does not accurately represent the maze." I took the instructions at face value. Now, I realized that I should have been consulting it all along, at least to get a clue where we might be. I found the mouth, guessed at where we were relative to said mouth, and off we went.

Back to the sign. Again.

We ran into that sign at least twice more before, miraculously, the cow spit us out like a sour cud. Consulting the map, we needed to get into the steer's left eyeball, find the eyelash that leads us out of the cow's head and then negotiate through some flowery-type arrangements to get out. Somewhere after we extracted ourselves from the eyeball, we got lost again. The night hung heavy in the air. The boys were trudging along at this point, no longer bothering to take the lead in picking the paths and complaining that their legs hurt. I wasn't feeling much better. I also began feeling twinges of dread that I may not be able to get us out at all. It was during this phase that I started hearing faint shouts of "Mr. Lewis!" Mr. Lewis, hold up your light!" My dread deepened; not only were we lost, but we were so lost, lagging so long behind the other groups, that they were worried, too. My heart began to race. Worse, we were now running into clots of people who were hopelessly lost as well. They wore an awful look of resignation. One guy seriously studied his map and declared he knew exactly where we were, and where we needed to go. Needless to say, we followed this leader. After a few false turns, his shoulder slumped a little. A false prophet. We left him as he raised himself back up and declared he now had figured it out.

We took some more false turns. We returned to a bench after several mini expeditions. We sat down on the bench, defeated. Finally, we got up and soldiered onward. Somehow, we stumbled on a path that looked new. It was deserted. Could this be it? We heard the desperate voices of those other groups, zombies searching for the exit. We moved forward; after maybe 20 yards, we came to a sign.

"Congratulations!" it said. We didn't bother to read on. We sprinted the hell out of there.





Thursday, October 20, 2011

Isaiah turns 1

It's official, folks. Isaiah, our darling little red-headed boy, is one year old today. Happy birthday, little guy!

In some ways, it's hard to imagine he's one year old. It seems like he's been in our lives for so much longer than that, and thus should be older. Same way with Nathaniel, actually, now on the cusp of three. It seems like he's been around far longer, so much so that it's hard to imagine how life was before he arrived. Still, I can't believe he's almost three already. Where has the time gone?

Back to Isaiah. Our little man is progressing nicely, thank you very much. He is getting quite comfortable with standing upright, and even has been able to balance himself without support for a couple of beats. He's quite close to becoming truly bipedal! His fascination with balls remains strong; in fact, Isaiah is quite adept at bouncing a ball to you, and when you bounce it back, he will invariably corral it. Hate to say it, but he is far more coordinated than Nathaniel was at that age, and I dare say he'd give his older brother a run for his money now. He's got a great tuft of light red hair now. Most of it is centered on the top of his head, so that it looks like he's wearing a red pelt, or has gotten a toupee. The sides and especially the back are still pretty wispy. Unlike Nathaniel, I think he will keep the reddish hair for a while, much like his mommy has.

Things are a little weird, because I had to wish Isaiah happy birthday from afar. Michelle and the boys are in Iowa, visiting an aunt, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, another aunt and an uncle. Awesome. I'm staying at home, and, boy, is it weird to come back to an empty house. I'm so used to being greeted with shrieks, smells (of dinner) and sass (in a good way, mostly) when I walk in the door that the silence that accompanies my return is that much more pronounced. Downright eerie.

And boring. I swear I never thought I'd use that word when greeted with the prospect of time at home alone. Liberation, yes. But boredom? Are you kidding me? Yet, like so many things, expectations can vastly outstrip reality. You might have thought I'd go bar-hopping or something. But really that doesn't hold much appeal anymore. If anything, it'd make me feel even more lonely, miss my family even more.

Don't get me wrong: There is one upside: I will sleep in on Saturday morning. I can't wait for that.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Booty-shakin' music

Two quick stories here.

The first has to do with the odd, impromptu performances we give for our children. You know, those times when you just ham it up for no reason, much to your children's delight – or horror.

One such time occurred a couple of evenings ago. We were just finishing dinner, and the boys were a little anxious, stuck in that void between the excitement of the beginning of dinner and the joy of post-dinner playing. For some reason, the KC & the Sunshine band song, "Shake your Booty" popped into my head, and I just went with it. I popped up and began waggling my skinny can.

Nathaniel watched me with a bemused look on his face. Then he said, "Daddy, that's so disgusting!"

I didn't know he knew that word. And I sure didn't know he knew how to put it in the proper context.

The second story also revolves around music. Michelle has practically begged me not to share this story, but I can't help it, even if it is to my embarrassment.

Every day, the bus I ride goes down the main street of a quaint little town lined with Mom n' Pop stores, like an apothecary, a pancake joint, a shoe store and a coffee shop. Also on this main street is a dusty store selling used music. It's called In Your Ear, which is appropriate enough, as it pertains to music and also to some crusty New England-style greetings. I've ling been intrigued by this place, but never had the energy, or perhaps the gumption, to interrupt my ride and check it out.

Well, one day I did. It was as dusty on the inside as on the outside. And it was cluttered. On one wall was a collection of CDs, some new, most used, in admirable order. I browsed through these. At the back of the store, stuffed in no apparent order, was a batch of cassette tapes. Let me repeat that: cassette tapes. Remember them? That thin, brown ribbon that if you played a tape long enough, would twist or break? Or squeak because it had become so frayed? Yes, this shop had a whole mess of 'em.

Seeing boxes of cassette tapes made me very, very happy. That's because this old throwback still drives a car with nothing more than a cassette player. So, I browsed, gleefully, through those boxes. And what treasures I found: AC/DC Live, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and some John Lee Hooker. OK, I got some CDs as well; I mean, I'm not that behind the times. Until I (gleefully) tell you my purchases: Rush "Moving Pictures," Jimi Hendrix "Axis, Bold as Love" and Nirvana "Live in NY."

Total for all that classic music: $50.

Now, that's priceless.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book backtalk

Sometimes, I wonder whether our dedicated reading to Nathaniel is backfiring.

Lately, we have been reading a book called, "Sam and the Firefly." In a nut, it's about an owl named Sam, who befriends a firefly named Gus and teaches Gus how he can write in the nighttime sky with his light. Gus, ever the miscreant, then uses this newfound skill to wreak all sorts of chaos, such as causing cars to crash and airplanes to collide.

Sam is horrified as he witnesses this spectacle, and he lets Gus know it. To this, Gus replies, "Let me be, you old hoot, you old owl."

In the end, Gus does something good with his firelight writing in the sky, and so the meaning is he's learned that it's better to use this talent for good than for bad.

We figured that would be the message that Nathaniel, our nearly 3-year-old, would have gotten, too.

Yesterday, as I was driving him and Isaiah home, Nathaniel began screaming. These were ear-splitting shrieks, uttered for no other reason than to annoy Daddy. I asked him to stop. He let forth with another screech. I told him to stop. He shrieked again, and then hurled at me: "I will scream if I want to. Let me be, you old Daddy!"

Wonder where he got that from?

For good measure, Natty Lou underscored his resistance to authority by screaming again, even louder than before. And, for the first time, I pulled the car over with a screeching halt, turned around, glared at him and told him if he didn't stop, he'd sit in that car for a long, long time.

He got that message. At least for now, my words carry more weight than a book.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

School Days


A quick post, this one. Nathaniel has just finished his first week of school. Well, his week is really just two days. But he made it, although I have precious little to report, as we know very little about what he did.

We know so little because Nathaniel has been so beat that he's a verbal vegetable by the time he's been picked up and transported home. The little information we have comes from the daily activity log provided by his teacher, Miss Stacy.

Day #1: Nathaniel "played with Magnatiles, enjoyed playing outside and listening to 'Ira Sleeps Over.'" He ate apple straws and drank milk during morning snack, polished off his bagged lunch and gulped down some Cheez-its and water in the afternoon.

Day #2: Nathaniel listened to the book "Froggy Goes to Camp," played with building blocks and talked about what made him happy as part of this week's theme of being in touch with your feelings. The best description, however, was this: "Nathaniel also enjoyed showing us his dance moves."

Now that's the boy we know and love.

He also napped, by george – for the first time in weeks. He must have been exhausted.

We snapped some pictures on his first day (see above). We think they really express a range of emotions balled into one: the innocence, the nervousness, the competing tension of angst and excitement. Looking at these photos, it's clear Nathaniel had been thinking for a while about this day. He alternated between silent and chattering repeatedly, "Are we going to school?" on the way.


When we arrived and went inside, Nathaniel turned oddly silent. He looked around and seemed somewhat intimidated by his surroundings. When one of the teachers tried to engage him to play with some blocks, Nathaniel sat still as a statue, just nodding. After a few minutes, though, he began to relax. Michelle was the last one to leave, and as she bade him goodbye, he gave her a kiss and turned quickly back to playing kitchen.

That's our boy, too. He had been talking about school for a long time, and now he's there. And it looks like he'll be happy, too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

School

There are moments in a child's life that a parent marks as important. A baby's first word, crawling, walking, and other milestones. They're important because they mean a child's made a major developmental leap, physically or mentally.

Tomorrow, Nathaniel starts school. This is one of those moments. It's not formal school, per se, but he will be immersed in a structured environment and receive formal instruction for the first time. There will be playtime, nap time and I would imagine general goof-off time, but the pre-pre-school's basis is on teaching the children who attend.

Nathaniel has been looking forward to this day for months. In fact, the idea of going to school served as his primary motivation to be potty-trained. Now, still about two months shy of his 3rd birthday, our little guy is pretty close to being fully versed in the business of doing your duty in the bathroom. The credit goes mostly to him. He was driven to learn to do his business in the potty, knowing that the reward would be to go to school (and the lollipops along the way).

As a parents, it is a bit bittersweet. I was thinking about all this at church this morning, as I watched Nathaniel playing the piano – not badly, I must say, with perfect posture at the bench to boot. He suddenly seemed bigger to me, more grown up. No longer could I mistake him for just a toddler. He had a veneer of maturity that made it hard for me to see him other than a little boy, forming his own views and opinions and full of hopes and promise. Where had the last three years gone? How did my little boy suddenly seem so grown? So, in a way, I'm as excited as he is about school – the beginning of the opening his mind and his imagination to all that scholarship has to offer. But I'm just a bid saddened, knowing that a phase in his life is ending, never to return, except in my mind.

Watching your children grow is exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Goodnight Irene

You all may have heard a hurricane swept into New England last weekend. It raised quite a stir, from the frenzied pre-landfall reporting to the unexpected flooding Irene produced in Vermont and upstate New York.

Around here, Irene summoned up some impressive winds and waves, and even gave me a chance to play reporter again for a day. (You can read that story here.) I ventured outside about 1 p.m. on Sunday, about four hours after the most powerful elements of the hurricane had swept through. I was bowled over by what I saw: stately trees snapped in half, innumerable branches strewn in the streets and on sidewalks. In some cases, the leafy debris was so dense it blocked my path, and I had to find another route. A 40- to 50-foot tree had fallen over a few blocks from our house, and it appeared to be lying on some power lines. First responders had blocked passage on the street with yellow caution tape. Not much further away, on the main street that runs through our quaint downtown, at least one massive tree had given up the ghost, taking a pole and several power lines with it. Just up the block was part of a two-by-four, some cables still attached, hanging in a web of wires overhead. It looked as if a projectile had been fired and been ensnared in a web.

Here's a video of what I saw downtown:



Four blocks of the main street had been blocked off because of the downed wires, some of which danced with each gust of wind, like a puppet to a techno beat. I walked on, down toward the water, just a few blocks away. There, I watched the water boil, wave after foaming wave churning their way northward into the town harbor, and splitting their guts against the rock walls. I was awestruck. The bay was angry, impetuous, whipped by the lashes of its slavemaster, the wind. Standing near the water, the droplets washed over me as if I were standing in a summer rain. The marinas were vacant; the boat owners had moored their vessels in open water. I get that now. Why would you subject your craft to slamming against a wooden pier that may come unmoored when you can tie it in open water and let it rise and fall with the current, no matter how strong?

Here's a video from the harbor.


I returned from my walkabout about 2:30, I think, and despite the carnage I had witnessed, all was well chez nous. Michelle had planned well for a power outage; she had filled the bathtub (in case we needed water to flush), she had filled up many containers with drinking water, she had cranked up the cold settings on the refrigerator and freezer, she had stacked the freezer with frozen Tupperware to keep it cold as well, and she had moved some easy eats to a cooler. Thanks to her, we were ready, more or less.

It didn't seem necessary. Irene was dying down by the afternoon, albeit with some gusty last breaths. At one point, Michelle and I looked at each other: We were in the clear, we thought, and we were talking about breaking down our storm preparations when ... the electricity went out.

OK, the power is out. No worries. In fact, it was kind of fun! For the next two days, I'd submit we partook of quite the adventure. Neighbors checked in on neighbors. We dined two consecutive nights with our friends across the street, the St. Angelos. Feasted, really. Pancakes, turkey sausage and fruit salad the first night and spaghetti with meatballs, sausages and grilled zucchini the next. Clearing out your fridge does have some advantages.

Come nightfall, an eerie calm fell over the streets. It was dark (naturally) everywhere you looked, the inkiness spoiled only by darting shafts of beams from flashlights or headlamps. Inside homes, lit candles gave off a charm and warmth that lights fail to deliver. Wandering outside with a glass of red wine in my hand, I looked up and was bowled over by the starry skies above. I saw constellations I didn't even know existed. I even saw the faint wisps of the Milky Way. It's astounding how the ambient glow of even small towns can blot out the night sky, and take us further away from the natural world.

Anyway, for four nights, we were tossed back in time – when simpler things – a book, conversations with family and friends – held sway. Before 9 each night, we were bushed; it felt like midnight, and we headed to bed. I understand now why, before electricity, people rose with the sun and accomplished much of what they needed by nightfall. You simply can't do that much in the dark.

At 3:30 a.m. on Thursday, amidst the roar of generators all around, Michelle nudged me awake. "Notice anything different?" she asked.
On my back, I opened my eyes. Light streamed down on me. Still groggy, I blinked a few times before I made the connection.

Electricity had returned. Hallelujah. I never felt so grateful for something I've taken mostly for granted.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Money, Money, Money

Haven't filed in a while. I'll take the convenient excuse that I returned not long ago from a trip to North Dakota to "play" with Michelle's two brothers, one of whom lives in the Peace Garden State (sounds hippie-like, doesn't it? The residents must be confused with, say, Rhode Island, or some other super-liberal state). I'll detail that trip once I load some photos.

This post has to do about a little boy who's wising up to the concept and value of money. This past weekend, I was doing some cleaning in the kitchen (at least that's how I imagine my activity there) when Nathaniel came up to me brandishing a quarter.

"Daddy!" he said. "I found your money."
"You did," I said. "Where did you find it?"
"In a drawer."
"Which drawer?"
"Your drawer," he answered, without the slightest sense of guilt.
I considered whether I should reprimand him right there for rummaging around in my things.
"Oh. Then it's my money. Can you put it back in the drawer, please?"
"No," Nathaniel responded without a moment's thought. "I'm taking it to the bank."

The calculus: Start your investment by taking someone else's money and putting up none of your own.

Pretty shrewd, kid. I'll give you that.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nap Time

I am at home today enjoying a holiday that few others get. In case you're unaware, today is Victory over Japan Day, and Rhode Island is the only state in the country to still recognize it. State and municipal offices are closed. Brown University is closed. Private businesses are open. Even federal offices are open. Yes, it is one strange holiday.

Since Michelle works at a private company, she went to work, and so I am watching the children today. We've had a nice, relatively relaxing time so far. We started the Day with Daddy with the usual 6:30 a.m. wake-up call from Natty Lou, who wandered into our room and crawled into bed with us. This has become a ritual since Nathaniel began sleeping in his "big-boy bed" a few weeks ago. His room adjoins ours, and while there is a door between our rooms, there is no lock, which means that Nathaniel can wander into our room anytime he wants. We've considered a few ways to keep him in his room during his naptime. One option was to put a latch on his door. We immediately ruled that out, because we felt that he may look at his room as some sort of punishment, rather than a tranquil, restful place. We decided to put a gate between the rooms, which prevents him from coming into our room – although he could scale it – but allows him to see in our room, so he doesn't feel "locked in." We hope we're sending the right message.

We don't put up the gate at night, although we have entertained that idea about every morning Nathaniel comes into our room and wakes us up. When that happens, we try to coax him to cuddle with us, a ploy – I admit it – to keep him in the bed, so we can sleep a little longer. It rarely works for long, for when Nathaniel is awake, he is ready to take on the day. He initially gets under the covers with us, but after a few minutes, he usually says, 'I'm hungry,' and no matter how hard we try to convince him that his hunger pangs could wait another half-hour or so, once he gets locked on a thought, he won't let it go.

And so it was this morning. He let loose a tremendous pee in his potty (TMI?), and I led him downstairs for breakfast – Daddy's signature jalapeno-infused scrambled eggs and cantaloupe. As he was finishing, Isaiah and Michelle came downstairs, and the little one ate some pureed pears and Cheerios. Nathaniel has been a wild man lately, even more energetic than usual, and we're not sure why. I think it's because he's not getting enough sleep. His naps have been really erratic. Perhaps it's the transition to his bed, and the fact he's no longer contained, as he was in the crib. He's never been compliant with napping anyway, so his ability to move around may be exacerbating his general resistance to afternoon shuteye. Whatever the case, he's been challenging lately. Knowing that, I wanted to get him outside and running as soon as I could in the morning. So away we went, to the playground on the water.

We stayed there for a little more than an hour, and then got on to one of Daddy's favorite activities, which is eating. The bagel shop downtown in our fair bayside town is always a favorite destination. Nathaniel gets a blueberry or cinnamon-sugar bagel with cream cheese, and I'll splurge on a sesame bagel with fresh lox, capers and cream cheese. Yum! I had the rare forethought of bringing a bottle for Isaiah, kept cold in an insulated container, and a pouch of pre-made organic sweet potatoes and white beans. So, we all dined in style, a pleasant late-morning meal.

By the time we finished, it was about 11:00 and time to shove on home. Isaiah was due for a nap, and Nathaniel needed to follow soon thereafter. Failure to meet these unscripted deadlines penalizes children and parents alike. The children get knocked off their routines, and that means pain for the parent, because they turn into emotional wrecks. It's an incredibly fine balance.

Anyway, I thought I had everything going to plan. I got Isaiah up to nap, and armed with a bottle, he promptly fell asleep. Nathaniel, against his nature, relented without little fight for his quiet time, too. I came downstairs, and I thought I had it made.

Anything but. About 45 minutes later, Isaiah popped back awake, and he has been a nightmare since. He won't fall asleep. In fact, he's screaming right now, in the middle of the afternoon, when he normally is dead asleep. It's painfully obvious he's exhausted, so this outburst should be short (I hope.). About a half-hour after I left Nathaniel, I went into our room to get this laptop. I opened the door, and to my left, I noticed Natty Lou's door was open, though I had closed it before. Just as I was about to close it, I looked down. There, right next to the gate, was Nathaniel's outstretched form, his head resting on his blanket. He fell asleep as close as he could get to us. How sweet. I guess he loves us, after all.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ball boy

Isaiah loves his balls.

Let me rephrase that. Isaiah loves basketballs. We have two basketballs in our house, one a small, bouncy inflatable and another a mini regulation ball. We have a hoop in the house. It's one of those that looks like the real thing, with a net, a post and a clear plastic backboard with the painted square to aim those bank shots.

I love playing with this hoop. Scarcely a day goes by when I don't launch a shot. The hoop is located in the playroom (itself converted from our dining room), and it faces the den, which means I can back up into the den and hoist long-distance 3s. I've never been a long-range marksman, but what really makes the shot difficult is we have a low-hanging light in the playroom, right in the path of most shooting angles to the hoop. A made 3, therefore, needs to be a graceful shot without too much arc (or else it will hit the ceiling) and with enough precision to avoid smacking the hanging light and incurring Michelle's wrath. It's a miracle the light has remained intact, and that the hoop remains in the playroom.

Back to the balls. Nathaniel has not shown more than a passing interest in either basketball. It's more of a stop along his daily rip-roaring tour through his toys. If you can imagine the toys to be like food in a cafeteria line, the basketballs would be something like broccoli and carrots. Yes, he'll put some on his plate every now and then, but they wouldn't be his first choice, not by a long shot. It shows in his shooting as well. When he does interest himself in a basketball, he'll grab it, clutch it in both hands between his legs and fling it in the vaguely general direction of the basket. On a few occasions, the ball has made it through the hoop; however, usually, it's caroming off the ceiling, his toy shelves, the buffet ... or that hanging light.

Isaiah is not shooting buckets, but he's sure more interested in the basketballs. Like with other toys, he approaches the balls with a studious bent. He eyes them carefully, then reaches out, touches it, rolls it slowly. He taps at it. Now that he can crawl, he'll nudge it and watch intently as it rolls away. Sometimes, he gets in a sitting position and grasps the ball with both hands, either slapping at it and smiling or laying his hands on it, like a preacher baptizing a child. His emotion is so Zen-like, it's as if he's trying to decipher the ball's meaning.

He's especially fond when I sit near him and dribble. His little red head will bounce up and down in time with the thump of the ball on the carpet. Then, I'll roll the ball over to him, and he'll clutch it greedily and slap down hard on it with his hands, attempting to mimic the dribbling. When he gets too exuberant and the ball slips out of his grasp, he'll look at the ball and then at me, his face nearly expressionless, as he calculates the next move. "Do I want the ball that badly that I'll crawl over to it? Or can I wait out that big guy there who's sure to fold and get it for me?

Can you guess who usually gets the ball?


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Lazy summer afternoon


Aaaaaah, a lazy Saturday afternoon in the summer.

The boys are napping, and Michelle is taking a well-earned break, her head resting on a pillow. It's just me and the coffee for now.

We've seen some pretty big moments around here in the last week. First, Isaiah has learned to crawl. Well, mostly. He's figured out how to prop himself up on all fours, his little arms outstretched as if he's about to rip off some pushups. His legs are curled and tucked in, like a frog that's poised to leap. And he's rocking in that position, which generally means he's cuing up to crawl. It's that last step that's eluding him for the moment. But he is moving. He's doing it for now by dropping to his stomach and using his hands and arms to pull himself forward. The motion bears more than a passing resemblance to soldiers shimmying along the ground. Yet Isaiah's leg motion is not as coordinated; they're mostly just flailing around. That last bit of coordinated effort, of combining the leg motion with the arm motion, is just not there. Yet. It's only a matter of time.

And then the fun really starts.

Progress also has been made with Isaiah's older brother, Nathaniel, who's on the doorstep of turning 33 months. That is, he's getting ever closer to turning 3 years old, which would mean he could go to a more structured day care/school. To enroll, however, you need to be potty trained, and on that front our little guy has made amazing strides this week. With patient supervision, monitoring and cheerleading from his mommy, Nathaniel has been pooping and peeing regularly in the potty. The last couple of days, he's barely needed any prompting: Suddenly, he'll run upstairs, do his thing, come down and announce he either pooped or peed in the potty. Then, either Michelle or I will go for confirmation, dump the contents into the toilet and let Nathaniel do the honors of flushing it "down the tunnel."

For each potty pee, he gets two goldfish; for each potty poo, he gets a lollipop. Michelle had started out with giving him a piece of gum for each potty poo, but Natty kept swallowing them, no matter how many times we preached to him to throw the gum in the trash when he was done with it. He just didn't get it. You mean it's not food? Then what is it? he seemed to be thinking. I can't blame him for being confused. Gum is kind of weird that way.

Nathaniel has been on such a roll with the pee/poo potty that we've had him in his big boy pants (i.e. underwear) for the last few days. So far, so good, save for one especially messy mistake. We're all really proud of him. For a few months, we've had isolated incidents when he would pee or poo in the potty. But he's been really regular, so to speak, for the past week. It really appears as if the light bulb has gone off. There's more work to be done, and for all we know he may regress some. But we're sure happy he's on his way.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Clammin'

The heat has arrived in New England. For more than a week, I've watched and read news reports of the searing heat wave gripping much of our nation. My dad, who lives in Texas, has told me of the epic drought in the Lone Star State, a stretch of rainless days that's gone so long that mature oak trees may die, and neighbors around the lake are entertaining trucking in water, so they can get their boats in. We mercifully had been spared the heat; whenever I looked at the map, it showed this balloon of red that reached to the north, west, and east (and of course south) but never expanded enough to encircle New England.

That changed yesterday. According to the National Weather Service, the thermometer hit 100 degrees in Providence, and it was 103 in Boston. I was startled when around 3 p.m. I checked the temperature in our little bayside town, and it was 99 degrees. We're just not geared for this. Most homes, ours included, do not have central air conditioning. Instead, we have window units interspersed throughout the house. They don't get used too often. But they're sure getting a workout now. It's amazing what a difference there is between 90 degrees and 100. Maybe it's perception, but I don't think so. I can function at 90. I'm a blob at 100, a torpid mass, chugging water, normally robust appetite way down. Welcome to global warming, my friends; this is just a foretaste of the misery to come.


OK, consider all that a preamble. The main story for today had to do with my first foray into clamming. Ta da! After more than a decade of living in the Ocean State, I finally did what most Rhode Islanders would consider a requirement for living here. Last Sunday, after church, Nathaniel and I headed over to T.J. and Maureen's house. (you can read more about them in the previous post.) We walked to the shore of the Kickemuit River (which locals call the "Kicky"), which was at low tide. That's the best time, as it turns out, to go clamming, because you want to go a ways out in the river – about two to three feet deep in water – to dig out the clams. To ferret them out, you dig your hand or toes into the sediment, which is a loamy mud. The clams, are nestled in there vertically, so you're feeling around for a pointy end, rather than the breadth of the shell. When you locate the pointy end, you dig around it and pull the clam out from the muck. Voila!

T.J. and I collected some three dozen clams in roughly an hour, a pretty good haul. And most of what we harvested were big clams, which locals call quahogs. Their shells are a black-silver, whereas regular clams, which locals call soft-shell, are whitish. In fact, I've been told that "clamming" is digging for clams near the shore, where the soft shells hang out, while "quahogging" is digging for clams in the water, where the quahogs burrow in. I don't know why.


On Tuesday, I took my batch, about a dozen in all, stuck them on the grill, and waited for the shells to pop open, which means the quahogs are cooked. I dipped them in butter and soy sauce and let them slide right on down. Now, that's good eatin'!

Thanks, quahogs. Thanks, Rhode Island.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Family Times

It's a sun-filled summer weekend in Rhode Island. This morning, we trekked over to an arts & crafts fair in Tiverton. A beautiful day to stroll amidst the artists' booths, gnosh on some cookies and listen to a (presumably) father-son guitar duo. They played very rootsy, folksy music, the kind I imagine people heard at the Newport Folk Festival in the 1960s and 1970s, right after musicians first began plugging in. The boy looked like he was 12, and man could he play! Nathaniel was smitten by the music; he nodded his head up and down, ever so slightly, in rhythm to the music and swiveled his hips to some of the up-tempo songs. He really loves music, and it was a nice treat for him (and us) to see it live.

Our neighbors and us are heading over to a former neighbor's house for a steak and margarita extravaganza. I'm mixing the Mexican candy, and T.J. is in charge of marinating and grilling the steaks. It's church tomorrow morning, as usual, and playtime of some sort in the afternoon. For us, that's a jam-packed weekend!

Michelle has faithfully uploaded photos, and so, without further adieu, here are some:


This is from the carnival that comes to town every Independence Day weekend. Daddy pushed off from the top, thinking he needed the extra momentum to make it down the slide. We almost got more than we wanted, as we went airborne!


Our families streamed in from six states to witness Isaiah's baptism. Here's his first bite of his baptism cake.


Michelle's brother, Matt, and our neighbor, Bob, give the July 4th sign.


The crew at the Independence Day parade.



Lighting sparklers at our neighbor's annual backyard extravaganza

What a weekend with the family! Next year, again?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Celebration Week

Whew, what a week!

Our house played host to myriad activities revolving around Isaiah's baptism and our nation's 235th year of independence. Hooray! (Go USA!)

When you have family strewn all over the country like Michelle and I, it's a rarity to get everyone together in one place at one time. Save for two individuals (Rob and Kate Niccolini), we were blessed and grateful that everyone from our families came into our humble little town to witness Isaiah's entrance into the Lord's kingdom and to take part in the host of events and parties thrown around Independence Day.

I won't give a detailed accounting of everything that happened. I'll post a slew of pictures soon to illustrate that. The best I can say it just how rewarding it is to see family and friends and to be together. At some point, you realize that the best times to be had are with those closest to you – by blood, extended family or by friendship. And the best thing you can offer is yourself. Strip away all the events, fireworks, parades and other stuff, and what you have is people being together, talking, laughing, playing, joking, deepening the bonds that keep us bound.

We are blessed that through some unfathomable luck of the draw, we were born into the richest country on Earth. We want fir little, and we have a lot. We have the ability and the means to conquer distance and see each other. We can congregate for special occasions, such as Isaiah's big day.

How lucky we are. God bless America.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Preparations

It's a big weekend coming up. We welcome family from Michelle and my sides – 13 in all. They're coming from six states – North Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Georgia, Iowa and Maryland. They're not coming to see us; we're not that interesting. They're coming for baby Isaiah's baptism this Sunday.

It's a blessed event, to be sure, and one we know our families are excited to share with us. But we figured to maximize interest, we pinned the date on the July 4th weekend, when our little town goes absolutely zany in its display of patriotic fervor and parties. It's such a festival of entertainment centered around our nation's independence that people come from all over to take it in.

We're lucky in that respect. We live in a town that is not only bayside beautiful, but holds one heckuva fun fiesta each and every summer. The offerings include nightly concerts in a park by the water, a carnival on the town common, backyard barbecues and a restaurant, bar and nightlife scene that, for a few days at least, would rival a mid-size city. In the seven years we've lived in this town, I've always been struck at the kaleidoscope of activity, the fever that grips everyone around July 4th. It's amazing.

Another draw to this time – and certainly of interest to some in our families – is the annual, traditional party that one of our neighbors holds. The affair is a really nice mix of extended family (theirs, of course), friends and even folks who wander in. The hosts are just great, colorful people who value time spent with others above all else, which explains why the annual July 4th party is so important to them and has become such a tradition. And then there's the backyard fireworks that culminate the evening. We're not talking sparklers here; these pyrotechnics are the monster, exploding bursts of color and sound that municipalities shell out for special events. It's like watching an Imax film from the front row. Except you're looking up, and you need to watch out for falling debris.

I'm failing to fully describe the scene, neighborly and across town, that marks this time. Granted, Isaiah's baptism and the reception we'll hold in his honor trumps all this weekend. But it doesn't hurt to have other attractions to reel family in.

Monday, June 20, 2011

8 Months

Baby Isaiah turned eight months old today.

Sure, it's significant, because each month is a cause for celebration when your child's less than a year old. But this one is special also because we've seen some pretty big changes in our little gut since he turned seven (months, of course). In those 30 or so days, Isaiah has been sitting up pretty much under his own power. His core is gaining strength, and he can sit upright, look around and flap his arms without tumbling over. The sitting upright posture doesn't last long – usually several minutes or so – and when he reaches for something in front of him, he hasn't quite figured out how to use his arms to help prop himself back up. He can do it, but it isn't smooth and takes considerable effort. Still, he's got the idea, and a new world has opened up for him, much different than the world from when you're just lying down.

He's also squawking like a madman. By nature, Isaiah is calmer than his older brother, Nathaniel, and more deliberate in his actions. Michelle and I have been discussing this. Whereas Nathaniel would spy a new toy, grab it, and either fling it or shriek at it, Isaiah will study it, then reach out and touch it, running his fingers over it. Very tactile. It's as if he's getting the toy's pulse. He observes before he reacts, whereas Nathaniel simply acts. No approach better than the other, mind you. Just different.

That cautious approach to objects holds true except for human faces. Isaiah is surprisingly quick on the draw when he gets within range of a nose, mouth, eyelid, ear or any other facial protrusion he can get a grip on. I have the scratches to prove it. Even then, however, when he latches on to your face, you can see that he's really concentrating on what he's doing, as if he's taking mental notes. So that's a nose. It has holes that I can stick my fingers in! And that's a mouth, with these rubbery, stretchy, red ledges I can grip and pull! Cool! I like faces!

Anyway, you get the point. There's a real fascination with faces. Isaiah, our cool, calculating little cucumber. Happy birthday, little man!


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Feeding the Birds

There are many activities that excite Nathaniel. Wrestling on the bed, helping mommy prepare meals (he's the sous chef.), throwing balls around the house, skating, (trying to) ride his tricycle, banging his drum, playing his kitty piano, and on and on.

I should mention that tops among all things that Natty Lou likes to do is anything that involves being with our neighbor, Caleigh. But that's a story for another time.

The story for this post is another activity that Nathaniel enjoys, and that is feeding the birds.

We have three bird feeders in out backyard. Two of them are the long, vertical feeders that hang from shepherd hooks. They keep squirrels out by sliding downward and closing the feeding holes. Sometimes, though, the squirrels are able to scale the shepherd's hook just enough to latch on to the feeder, and while it slides shut, the apparatus is shaken so violently is spills some seeds. A few squirrels have figured out how to take a flying leap from the fence and latch themselves on to one of the feeders. To those who succeed, the reward is like the coins that tumble out of a slot machine when the jackpot is hit – a whole bunch of seeds come tumbling out.

The third feeder we have is a mesh sock of sorts that we hang from a tree branch. This sock holds thistle, or nyjer seed, and is there mostly for the finches. I'm always impressed how the finches find the sock, even when it's partially, or mostly, hidden among the tree leaves. We always have steady visitors to the hanging buffet.

The problem with the sock, with its little holes, is that it tears easily. I'm not sure whether the rips come from the finches or from sparrows that, when the other feeders are empty, sometimes will try to alight on the finch bag. But whoever it is, the sock shows tears from the first time it's hung. And they're not cheap, either. So, to save some money, I patch the holes up with duct tape. It looks a tad unsightly, but the birds aren't going for appearance; they're going for the food. Unfortunately, the duct patches last for about one feeding, meaning that when it's time to refill the bag, the duct tape has been worn off or is so covered with seeds that it won't stick anymore. So, another round of patching is needed. And so on.

OK, Nathaniel's role has been to help me fill the vertical feeders. I give him a middling grade in this endeavor, but not for a lack of trying. We use a plastic cup to pour the seed into the feeder, and that does take a fair amount of precision and control. Nathaniel, exuberant as he is, hasn't quite got the touch. So, I help guide the cup toward the feeder opening, and he pours. About half the cup goes in the feeder; the rest hits the ground.

Much more entertaining for Nathaniel is the filing of the finch bag. We need a ladder for this job, and Nathaniel loves that, because that means he gets to run to our neighbor's yard, where we borrow the ladder. After some extracurricular dashing around, I can usually wrangle Natty to accompany me to our yard, where I climb up, get the finch bag and refill it. At least it should be that easy. Of course, it isn't. Nathaniel wants to climb the ladder, too. At the beginning, he'd only climb a couple of rungs and tentatively at that. But now, he scrambles all the way up, some 7-8 feet off the ground.

The birds arrive soon after we finish, as if they've been watching us, waiting for us to go inside. That's where Nathaniel, will stand, nose pressed against a window. "We have food, birdies!" he'll call out.

And, inevitably, they come.