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August 29, 2008

67 Days

We went to a party tonight to celebrate the opening of another Washington College academic year with the members of its art faculty (of which Robbi is a periodic member). While there, we caught up with our friend Aileen, who has been on leave for the past year. She had a gift for Alden.


In light of a recent burst of improvement on the manual dexterity front, Alden decided to take a crack at opening it herself.


She stuck with it, and eventually...


...opened the box inside.


The gift was a bib.


But not just any bib. Alden sensed the significance of the date printed on the fabric, but did not quite grasp its specific import.


And then suddenly she understood.


And she was very pleased.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:13 AM

August 27, 2008

Local Pride

We were walking in the park the other day, as we often do. The park lacks public restrooms, but it does have a port-a-potty.


Since we only live two blocks from the park, we don't really use the port-a-potty. But we often admire it on account of its very clever slogan.


What imagination! What pizzazz! Who expects such confidence and pride from our friends in the waste removal business?

Way to go, Pierson's. May your comfort group live long and retain its sense of humor. When it comes to portable toilets, I'll always think of you first.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:28 AM

August 20, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Alden finds herself torn, like Solomon's baby, between several fierce grandparental allegiances. On one hand, her Grandma Elisabeth is a devoted Duke basketball fan, Red Sox fan, and Patriots fan. On the other hand, her Grandpa John is a Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan, a Kansas City Royals fan, and a Kansas City Chiefs fan. Fortunately, her Grandpa Bob and Grandma Seiko probably don't even know what a layup, grand slam, or field goal are, so one could argue that this tangle of conflicting loyalties could be much worse.

There are those beyond the family sphere who dare to compete for my child's sporting preference.

My colleague Clifford, for example, who placed the orange socks of his beloved Baltimore Orioles on Alden's legs.


Emboldened by her failure to protest, he draped a tee-shirt of even more garish orange across her tiny, defenseless frame.


Clifford took one look at the Orioles/Alden combination and declared that she was obviously a fan. I begged to differ. To settle the argument, we took her straight to Camden Yards to see for ourselves whether she would cheer for the Orioles or Sox.

At first, she couldn't see over the rowdy Orioles fans in front of us. And so I helped her to a better vantage.


As the game progressed, the score was knotted at 0-0. Alden looked anxious. Clearly she cared.


But who was she cheering for?

At the top of the second, Boston slugger Jason Bay hit a towering homer to put the Sox on the scoreboard. A few batters later, Boston's catcher and captain, the great Jason Varitek, who has been struggling all season, came up to bat and hit a homer of his own.


I looked to Alden, trying to read her reaction to the events of the inning. She was not unhappy with Boston's success, but neither was she elated as one would expect a true fan to be.


I considered the question thoroughly unanswered.

In the bottom of the fourth, Baltimore's slugger Aubrey Huff belted a fastball over the fence in center field. I looked to Alden for response, and suddenly we had our answer.


Even though Boston still had a 2-1 lead, she was clearly dismayed. I tried to console her, to tell her that it would be all right, that baseball is just a game, that life is full of peaks and troughs, that true character comes from turning the other cheek, that important lessons can be learned from loss. For a moment, it seemed as if she understood. But as Huff crossed home plate and the scoreboard registered the Baltimore run, it was clear that the Red Sox fan lodged deep within my child's tiny heart had just been unleashed.


Posted by bogenamp at 10:22 PM

August 19, 2008

Where Babies Come From

I have heard many theories about the origins of life. Some babies arrive by stork and others are found in baskets left on doorstops. Or else they arrive like mine did, mad and determined to defy the seeming laws of physics.

But just this evening, after bringing the groceries in from the car and starting to unpack them, I discovered yet another way that babies may be delivered into our lives.


There between the olive oil and the wheat squares...


...was a real live baby. It was an appealing sort of thing, sweet smelling and amiable. I checked my receipt and found I had not paid for it. And yet I did not want to return it to the Super Fresh.

I put away the cereal and the onions and the cottage cheese, but did not know exactly what to do with the baby.


And so it stayed inside the bag, as it seemed to prefer.

Later we spotted it again, this time under a pile of toys.


We like this baby. We're going to keep it.

But I'm not sure how soon I'll be going back to the grocery store.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:58 PM

August 17, 2008

Over the Weekend

As she continues to grind through the illustrations for Volume 16, Robbi spent most of her weekend hunched industriously over her painting table. But we still managed to have a bit of fun here and there.

For example, Alden discovered her feet the other day.


A few minutes later, Robbi discovered hers.


Alden cooked dinner.


With a little help from her dad.


And then she did the dishes.


Alden and Robbi were unexpectedly awakened from a nap.


Alden sat in her little plastic eating chair for the first time.


Robbi told Alden a joke, which confounded her, initially.


But suddenly she got it, and all was well.


My brother Alex paid a visit.


It was his first time meeting Alden, who seemed to think highly of her uncle.


Last night, we went to a swanky wedding at a swanky estate.

My favorite part was the driveway.


They hung lanterns from the trees.


After paying our compliments to the blushing bride, our friend Katherine...


...we walked down to the water...


...and watched the sun set.


As midnight nears, Robbi is back to her brushes and I am off to wash the dishes, this time with no help from the baby, who had the nerve to fall asleep.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:40 PM

August 14, 2008

Something New at the Barn

For her first 142 days of life, Alden's diet consisted of one thing and one thing only. Think about that for a moment. I mean, how awful. I have been feeling terribly guilty, feeling that it is my duty to expose my young daughter to the richness of life's bounty. I long to share such delights as Chipotle, ribs, and Procolino's pizza, but have been heretofore thwarted by the ironclad counsel of our pediatrician, who declared her immature digestive tract not yet up to the challenge of these exciting foods.

When we took Alden in for her four-month checkup, however, we were told that we could try introducing her to small amounts of rice cereal. We were cautioned that babies her age are not always able to figure out how to swallow. His advice was to give her a small bite to see if she knew what to do with it.

Robbi has been staying up all night this past week working on the illustrations for Volume 16. She is a madwoman who finds her purest artistic zone from the hours of 2am-6am. And so I have been taking care of Alden in the mornings while Robbi gets her sleep. When Alden started wailing the wail of the mortally famished around 9:00 yesterday morning, I felt pangs of pity for sleeping Robbi and decided that the time might be right to test Alden's readiness for the mysteries of rice cereal. Bob and Seiko happened to be visiting, and so we had a 3:1 adult-to-baby ratio working in our favor.

I mixed the rice cereal per the instructions on the box, Seiko manned the spoon, and Bob took it all in.

Seiko offered the first bite. We waited to see what would happen.


The jury did not tarry long in making a decision. Alden liked it. She liked it a lot.


Bite after bite, she liked the heck out of that rice cereal.


Until finally, it was gone.


In some ways Alden takes after me, in other ways, after Robbi. When it comes to eating, she is surely my child: enthusiastic, daring, and insatiable. She clutched the silver spoon expectantly, even after the bowl had been washed and returned to the cabinet.

Dr. Ramirez has told me that Alden's first Chipotle will have to wait until Alden has teeth, etc. This disappoints me, if only because I hate to think of her missing out on life's good things for so many more months. I will grudgingly oblige, if only because even in its thin, watery blandness, the rice cereal seems to bring her such genuine joy.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:32 PM

August 12, 2008

More Sock Puppets

Today I am angry with those who spam. It was the infernal spammers who flooded the Barnstorming's "comment" feature with such an astonishing volume of junk that we had to disable the comment feature altogether. My anger at the spammers has been acutely felt these past few days as I am terribly curious to know how the readership felt about the first installment of Sock Puppet Theatre. The tracker on YouTube suggests that to date 113 of you have taken the time to watch it, but the story it does not tell is whether or not you enjoyed the experience or whether the Sock Puppet Theatre has driven you from the Barnstorming forevermore.

Emboldened by the enthusiasm of those of you who took the time to email me with words of praise and enthusiasm for the sock puppets, I will share Episode Two with you now.

I apologize in advance for the various times in which I forget to move my puppet's mouth, for the various times in which David and I cannot control our "backstage" laughter. Episode Two is uneven at best, but I think at base it has an important message. I will leave it to you to determine what (if anything) there is to be learned from it.

And now, in a gesture that may well become a regular feature of these posts, I am happy to present a photo that has absolutely nothing to do with the general theme of the entry. Here I am at the Dead Sea in the West Bank a few winters back.


The mud was quite lovely and the water tasted not unlike battery acid. They told us not to drink it, but I couldn't help myself from trying just a bit. I mean, wouldn't you?

Posted by bogenamp at 12:12 AM

August 09, 2008

Another Prompt

Those of you who enjoyed Episode One of Sock Puppet Theatre may be disappointed to learn that Episode Two will not be broadcast today. Those of you who found the sock puppets off-putting and bizarre may be pleased to see a rather nice illustration by Robbi instead.

The other day, I sent Robbi the following prompt:

Jennifer turned ten and decided the time had come to really start living. "It's time to really start living," she wrote in her journal.

Later that day, she took out the atlas and marked all the places she would go. She ran out of ink.

To which Robbi responded:


We have spent the day dusting and sorting through books. It has been a demoralizing yet necessary endeavor.

As I often do on days like these, I thought of better times, specifically January 1 of 2005 when I woke on a deserted beach on Cumberland Island, Georgia, inspired to jump.


How lucky that Robbi was there to capture the moment. Here's hoping that viewing it now provides you even a tiny fraction of the pleasure it does me.

Some day I will no longer be able to jump like that. It's sad, but inevitable. Got to get that jumping in now.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:14 PM

August 07, 2008

Sock Puppet Theater

Our friend David Turner, star of the Broadway stage, has been in town visiting for the last few nights. There are certain standby activities to which we usually resort when we get together: playing Celebrities, playing Primary Representative Pictionary (the revolutionary three-person version of the popular parlour game), making "Primitive Beef" (glorified version of American Chop Suey) and eating it in gratuitous quantities, and making bad, strange movies that puzzle our mothers.

Last night, on the eve of David's departure, we had worked our way through almost every item on the list. But we hadn't yet made any bad movies. So we got out the video camera and tried to improv a decent scene. Fifteen minutes later, we had to admit to ourselves that it wasn't working. We were about to give up entirely when we had the idea to try our hand with sock puppets. An hour later we had completed three impromptu scenes, none of which is fit for prime time, but two of which I'll share with you anyway.

Here, without further ado, is Episode One of Sock Puppet Theater, The Baby.

Tune in tomorrow for Episode Two, Getting Closer.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:53 PM

August 06, 2008

Bosom Friends

We had a bit of a college reunion the other night. Our friend David Turner is in town, visiting from NYC, so we all drove over to Baltimore to visit with Christian, Emily, and Iris, who celebrated her arrival at the two-month marker a few weeks ago.

It was David's first time meeting little Iris.


And although they have met before, it was the first time that Alden and Iris were able to interact with one another in any meaningful way. It was fascinating watching them together.

For example, at one point, Iris was unhappy about one thing or another.


And Alden was like, "Dude, cheer up. Life gets much better in the fourth month."


To which Iris responded, "Thank god, because it totally sucks not being able to hold up my head for more than a few seconds at a time."

To which Alden said, "So, do you, like, wanna be best friends?"

To which Iris responded, "Uh . . . yeah."

At which point they both turned to the collective parents, asking, "Like, can we be best friends forever and always? Like, can we?"


We decided to test their budding friendship by letting them hang out together in Alden's travel bed.

At first, things went well.

"Hey this is great," Iris said.


At which point, Alden clocked her with a sneak uppercut.


I expected Iris to crumble. Instead, she gave Alden the stiff-arm and a spirited, "Oh no you didn't, Fathead."


We thought about separating them at that point, but decided instead to let them work out their differences. It soon became clear that the back-and-forth was nothing more than the dawn of a genuine affection.


"You're number one, Alden," said Iris after a while.


"No, you are," said Alden.

We let them parse the fine points as they got to know one another. Before long they locked arms, affirmed their lifelong allegiance, and started gossiping amongst themselves.


Iris even let Alden sit in her little green chair. Which Alden loved.


And then suddenly hated.


Babies are such mercurial creatures, already in intensive training for adolescence.

But the friendship of Alden and Iris has been set in motion.


So much lies ahead for these two. I, for one, cannot wait to watch.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:41 PM

August 03, 2008

Trying Again

About one week before Alden was born, Robbi and I began a new creative endeavor. Alternating days, one of us would send a prompt to the other (Robbi would send me an illustration or I would send her a piece of writing) to which the other would respond.

You can click here to go back to that innocent time.

Or if you hate to follow links, you can instead read the following. On March 19, I sent Robbi the following text:

Boneman Travis cut a stark profile among the pretty girls of Evars Street. He was thick as a tree and mean like two snakes. He ate daydreams and laughed. He coughed and favorite teacups flew from narrow shelves and shattered. He was a big man in a small space and that was how he liked it.

Sally "Frito" Jones saw his game from across the river. She bribed a man to get a boat, put on a red mask to make herself seem dangerous, and set out to sell the Boneman some swampland. The years away from the old neighborhood had changed her such that he could not now recognize the crumpled features of the girl he had once ruined.

It was a crooked tango that they danced.

To which Robbi responded:


It was the first in five or so days of back-and-forth collaboration. It was fun and spontaneous, a welcome change of pace from the kind of careful thinking we do when we work on our books. We planned on doing it each and every day, if only a quick and dirty piece of writing or sketch on the back of a coaster, just to keep the creative cogs turning.

But then the baby came and we found ourselves obsessed with other kinds of creation. For a long time I wondered if we would ever get back to our game.

And so I was pleased this morning to discover the following image in my inbox:


To which I responded:

When the city got too deep and wide, he sometimes thought of the island. Just a few miles off the coast, almost hidden by the swells, its slopes were steep and its trees were full of fruit.

But he had never been there. No one had. The ferry waited empty at the docs, idling and anxious like the rest of us.

Four months after the fact, Robbi's drawing serves as an indicator that perhaps things are starting to get a bit closer to normal.

However we're describing it these days.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:17 PM

New Toy

After some initial resistance, Alden has settled into a cheerful accord with her Baby Einstein.


Each day she discovers some new way in which it can be manipulated by her tiny baby hands, a process of discovery which, in turn, delights and gratifies us. But her tenure in the Einstein usually only lasts 15 minutes or so, leaving us in search of other means of stimulation.

And while the lure of the recycling bin is strong, we have so far resisted the temptation to repeat the experiment. Fortunately, we have discovered another, even better, even more gratifying way to divert one's baby.

A box arrived in the mail the other day, the contents the result of a long bout of Web research done by Robbi.

Behold the Bungee Baby Bouncer:


For those not content to wait until their child can actually walk, the Bungee Baby Bouncer creates the illusion, both for the benefit of the wildly gratified parent and the suddenly dexterous baby.


All one needs is a barn and a beam.


And a Bungee Baby Bouncer


We got the Bungee Baby Bouncer in hopes that it would entertain the baby (which it does) so that it would free us up to do other things (which it has not). The problem is the extent to which it is delightful to watch a baby enjoy her newfound ability to dance. Whenever Alden is strapped into the Bungee Baby Jumper, there are suddenly four adults sitting there watching her with adoring eyes.


There may be no more satisfying way to spend one's time.


Damn you, Bungee Baby Bouncer, entertainer of babies, beguiling killer of productivity.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:21 PM

August 01, 2008

What the...?!

It has been an illuminating day here on my sick bed.

Let me count the ways:

1) Reader Doug Plummer correctly solved yesterday's puzzler with "abstemiously." In addition to being a canny wordsmith, Doug is a fabulous photographer. Visit his site or blog.

2) Reader Brandy D. correctly solved yesterday's puzzler with "abstemiously" and with "facetiously", earning my utmost respect in the process.

3) In the course of the subsequent email exchange with Brandy D., in which I conveyed my utmost respect, I shared with her the fact that I harbor dark, unkind feelings about exclamation points. To which Brandy D. inquired about my opinions regarding the interrobang. Which made me take pause. The "interrowhat?!"

4) Which is precisely the point. The interrobang is an ingenious piece of punctuation invented by adman Martin K. Speckter in 1962 as a means of telegraphing a "surprised rhetorical question," obviating the need for the inelegant, inefficient "?!" or "?!?!?!?!?!" as the case may be.

Here is the interrobang. Isn't it lovely?


If anyone knows how to make my Mac keyboard type an interrobang, please let me know immediately.

As I contemplate ending this entry, I realize that I may well have succeeded in blogging about something other than Alden for the first time in four months. I find myself asking if I am ready for such a paradigm shift.

And yet the subject of interrobangs has no relevance to my young daughter.


Or does it?!

Posted by bogenamp at 03:53 PM