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May 30, 2009

Why I Struggle With My Self Esteem

My very good friend David has been traveling in Japan. Yesterday, I received this postcard.

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"Oh look," I said, admiring the lovely photograph on the front. "What a nice postcard. David must really care for me."

And then I read the back.

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On one hand, I am flattered that David went to such lengths to insult me in this manner. After all, he had to purchase an expensive international plane ticket, conduct exhausting research on the Golden Phoenix, navigate the complex Japanese postal system, and find a pen. It is this last step, I suspect, which challenged him the most.

I have been absent from these pages for the last few days on account of my computer being in the shop. But the helpful folks at the Annapolis Apple Store have made it like new. It was interesting, and somewhat discomfiting, to be away from my computer for three days. I realize how deeply ingrained and instinctual my compu-habits have become: the checking of email, the browsing of baseball box scores, the scanning of salacious headlines on the partisan news sites. It was probably good to be forced to pare back for a few days, a needed diet for the cyberfat.

Plus, being away from my computer has given me more time for the things that really count in life. Like reading postcards from a dear old friend.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:30 AM

May 25, 2009

Alden and the Crab

We awoke Saturday morning to the sound of a marching band. It was Tea Party weekend in Chestertown. As such, it was our civic obligation to go outside and watch the parade. I know that we Americans are supposed to want to watch parades. We are supposed to like parades. We are also supposed to enjoy gardening. Perhaps some day I will wake up with the urge to plunge my hands into the damp earth while a parade goes by.

But because Robbi loves parades, and because Alden deserves the opportunity to decide for herself that parades are no fun, we went out into the sunny throngs. Fortunately, the parade route passes about 100 yards from our front door. Alden walked to the corner on her own two feet.

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Once we got to High Street, she climbed up onto my shoulder to have a better view.

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The sun was out and the streets were full of happy people. A bunch of bagpipers went by. I kind of had a nice time in spite of myself.

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The Chestertown Tea Party is a pretty big deal on the Eastern Shore. Bands and historical reenactors of many stripes come from near and far to participate. But our local marching band is my favorite. In part because of the jolly plush crab that ambles along with them wherever they go.

Alden was unsure of the crab. She was glad that he was far away.

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But then he got closer. She was glad that he was no closer than he was.

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But then he got closer. She turned to me as if to say, "Please tell me he's not going to get any closer than this."

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But he did.

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And Alden decided that he wasn't so bad after all.

Later, I asked her if she had enjoyed the parade, but she would not say. I get the sense she didn't want to hurt my feelings.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:56 PM

May 21, 2009

The Garden

I promised Robbi that when the mural was done, I'd help her plant her garden. If you don't know, I'm not really a gardening guy. Both of my parents are enthusiastic about planting and growing and caring for flowers, bushes, vegetables, and the like, but I just can't understand the thrill. Apparently Robbi has caught the bug, and so in the interest of solidarity, I am doing my best to be supportive and participatory.

Because she has no confidence in her ability to persuade young plants to big plants that will actually provide us with food, Robbi purchased the "Fail-Proof Tomato Kit" online. Its name was affirming. So yesterday we opened the large box and Robbi started assembling her kit, which is basically a large plastic tub with a reservoir that holds water.

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As long as the reservoir is not empty, the thing will water itself so that you do not have to remember to do so yourself, thus removing one of the most common factors in tomato failure.

Part of the fail-proof tomato kit was two large bags of topsoil. Robbi mixed the soil with fertilizer in our recycling bin.

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And then she mixed it again with her hands. This is the part of gardening I have the most trouble identifying with.

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Then she filled the special fail-proof trenches with soil. I get the sense that the trenches are a very important aspect of the fail-proofness.

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And then she poured in the rest of the soil.

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Once the fail-proof was full of dirt, it was time to select the lucky plants that would get to live in it. Robbi surveyed the collection of small tomato and bean plants she has been growing in the window and tried to determine which seemed to have the most promising characteristics.

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Oscar observed the proceedings but did not share his opinions.

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Eventually Robbi made her selections.

Instead of choosing the most vital plants, she picked a tomato plant with a bent stem. She is a perpetual champion of the downtrodden, a inclination that extends even to the choice of seedlings.

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I wonder if it will be appropriate to bring up this flawed selection if the plants fail to thrive. I think perhaps I will keep such observations to myself.

My job, in addition to taking photos of the magic as it happened, was assembling the horrible metal tomato cage.

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I very nearly failed, mostly on account of my bad attitude about the whole thing.

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But I soldiered on, not wanting to be the weak link that proved the fail-safe tomato grower wrong. I'm sure there is a clause somewhere that voids the guarantee in the case of there being a surly, impatient husband in the mix.

Eventually the cage was assembled and Robbi was pleased.

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Today we got the topsoil for the actual garden bed. I poured it into the frame we built the other day.

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Alden helped.

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She was fascinated with the dirt. Perhaps this gardening thing skips a generation.

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For a while, Alden helped Robbi plant.

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But after a while she lost interest and just ran around.

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Several of you have asked me to post some pictures of the barn from the outside. Here's a shot that gives you a sense of where the garden is in relation to the barn.

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If you are one of the many people who apparently have imagined this barn on 300 lonely acres at the end of a long dirt road, we are sorry to undo what must have been a very pleasant daydream. No, ours is an urban barn, smack dab in the heart of Chestertown's sleepy historic district. Our fertile acreage is limited to that little strip of green between the sidewalk and the street, but this is enough, it seems to keep Robbi very happy and Alden in a perpetual state of wonder.

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We will chronicle the non-failure of our tomatoes as weeks pass. Or the failure to not-fail. Whichever the case may be.


Posted by bogenamp at 10:46 PM

May 19, 2009

Search Strings

As I like to do from time to time, I had a peek at the Barnstorming logs today. It is fun to see how many people have been reading, how long they spend on the site, and what sorts of search strings they use to find us. I was pleased by the latest batch of phrases, and thought I'd share them with you.

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I can't help but feel sorry for those poor suckers who were in the hunt for different types of excitement than the kind we offer at the Barnstorming, where we seem to talk about nothing but babies, books, and murals. But whomever was looking for our friend Jon Kravis would have had something useful to read.

Perhaps when we are in Alaska, I will have occasion to snap some photos of country boys on 4-wheelers (though given that it's usually about 45 degrees up there in the summer, the boys in question are unlikely to be hot).

The other items on this list, I am afraid, are better left to others.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:00 PM

May 17, 2009

The Unveiling

As we suspected would be the case, Robbi worked right down to the wire. Here she is on Friday afternoon, putting the finishing touches on the mural key.

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She paid special attention to Kevin Bacon's hair. Given his literary chops, Philip Roth can get away with looking a bit ruffled. But Kevin Bacon's got nothing but his looks and his fancy footwork.

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The last thing she painted was the mural's title panel, which was placed on the left side of the sliding door between the mural room and the kitchen.

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The last order of business was extracting the ladder/strip of paper sculpture that had been steadily growing and taking on an identity of its own over the week or so of muraling.

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When Robbi finally called it quits and left for the airport to pick me up, several of her helpers sprayed the entire mural with a clear coating, meant to protect it from the sweaty forearms of well-meaning wall-leaners.

Saturday came, and we showed up for the Barth reading. It was fun watching people read the mural.

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There's really no right way to do it, but pointing enthusiastically helps.

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I was so pleased to see it in the flesh after having to take it in by looking at pictures all week.

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Eventually the reading started, and Joshua Wolf Shenk got things started.

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Then Barth read from his latest book, a book of stories called The Development. He was kind enough to mention Robbi and me and our work (he is a subscriber) in his introduction.

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Our friends Dahna and Sarah surprised us by driving in from D.C. for the unveiling.

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They joined us for Chestertown's finest pizza and a walk along the water, where Alden suddenly discovered that knowing how to walk brings the accompanying joy of being able to terrorize ducks and geese.

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She has gone straight from crawl to jog, and so it was only with a great burst of paternal speed that I was able to catch up with her and prevent her from plunging headfirst into the drink.

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As a walking child, she is fearless and haughtily independent. She will not take the hand of one who is trying to help her stabilize or navigate. Instead, she heads across bridges without looking back.

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At the end of our walk, Iggy came upon three cats who wanted to do her harm. There was a tense standoff, at the conclusion of which Iggy wisely decided that slinking meekly away was the best course of action.

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Iggy almost never recognizes the best course of action, but is such a natural slinker, that she occasionally gets lucky and escapes unscathed.

This afternoon, we began work on Robbi's garden. Our "yard" consists of a tiny patch of grass out front. But Robbi's ambition has not been dampened by lack of real estate. She has been growing tiny plants from seeds near the window in our dining room. Out front, she is using wooden posts to frame out her garden.

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I was charged with driving in some stakes to stabilize the corners.

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We screwed the posts into the stakes, and the simple frame was done.

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On Tuesday, we'll pour in some topsoil. Tomorrow we head to Baltimore to meet with some people about yet another new project.

When it rains, it pours. We're standing outside with no raincoats, aiming for full-on saturation.

But at least the mural is complete.

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Posted by bogenamp at 11:20 PM

May 13, 2009

The End in Sight

I just got a new batch of photos from Robbi, who is home from the mural at the uncharacteristically early hour of 10:30pm. She has another project to complete tonight, due tomorrow: some illustrations for our friends at Bombadil. Robbi and I developed a story and illustration that provide the framework for their soon-to-be released album, Tarpits and Canyonlands, and they have asked her to illustrate the extended liner notes that will come bundled with an iTunes purchase of the album. She has developed a series of images that will accompany the lyrics, and the result is much like an illustrated book of poetry. I think it looks quite nice.

Here's a link to the post discussing our collaboration with Bomabdil. And here's the cover of the album, which will be released on July 7.

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For now, here the latest pics of the mural. The portraits are pretty much done (except for a last-minute revision or two), almost all of the lines representing the relationships have been painted in, and the arduous process of inking the words is under way (notice how she's had to work around the ceiling beams). Two more full days on top of the ladder and Robbi should be done, just in time to pick Alden and me up from the airport on Friday night. Fingers crossed.

Here is Samuel Johnson, who is critical of just about everyone, with the notable exceptions of God Almighty and J.K. Rowling for whom, it seems, he has a surprising fondness.

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And here is Jonathan Swift, who "made an immodest proposal to" J.K. Rowing. Who knew she was such a hit with the old dead British guys?

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And here is a pulled-back glimpse at the unconscionable sprawl. Perhaps the best way to view this mural will be to lie in the middle of the floor for an hour or so.

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Another view. Continued chaos.

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We've aimed to cover every available inch of the room, so much so that we had to coordinate with the Lit House folks to find out the exact dimensions of the furniture they intended for the room so that we could plan around it.

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I swear that I have been busy as well, while Robbi has been doing her best impression of Superwoman. I'm busy at work on the concepting for our next big project: a sizable commission that will keep us very busy from now until we leave for Alaska. More on that to come in days ahead.

For now, should you see Robbi, give her a pat on the back or a shoulder rub or hand her a sandwich or utter encouraging words. I wonder if I'll get to see her when I get back home or if she'll be asleep for the next ten days.

But by all means, stop by the Lit House at 2:30on Saturday to hear John Barth and see the mural in its glory.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:33 PM

Meanwhile, in Missouri

Lest you think that Alden and I have been idle while Robbi works all day and night on the mural, I will share some scenes from recent days.

There has been scowling.

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And smiling.

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And lots of walking.

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There has been companionship.

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And noticing of small things.

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And picking small things up.

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And helping Frog Boy fill his basket.

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There has been gong ringing with Grandpa John.

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And more companionship.

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There has been exploring with Grandpa John.

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And exploring all alone.

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There has been stopping to smell the flowers.

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And picking them.

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And reveling in the abiding joy of nature in its endless bounty.

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There has been lots of eating.

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And testing/approval of the KC strip steaks.

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And grudging acceptance of the fact that although this is what I had for dinner...

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...she was stuck with this.

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There have been bubble baths.

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And bubble bath basketball (say it three times fast).

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In short, Robbi has no business complaining about being "busy" or "tired". Alden and I know the true meaning of these words.

Posted by bogenamp at 01:20 AM

May 12, 2009

More Faces Emerge

Just a quick post this morning to show more progress. I'll try to stay out of the way.

Emily Dickinson

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Jonathan Swift

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Dante

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Jane Austen

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Miguel de Cervantes

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J.D. Salinger

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Herman Melville

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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A handful down, but many more to go. At this point, it's a race against the clock. Robbi is aiming to finish this sucker by Saturday at 2:30 when it is officially unveiled at the John Barth reading.

At first our intention was to include the name of each writer next to his or her face, but as we went along, a couple of smart, trustworthy people suggested that the mural might be more engaging and stimulating if we left the names off and made it the task of the reader to identify the writers by their faces and linking phrases. We came to like this approach, and plan on excluding the names.

But, the relative obscurity of some of the folks we've included compelled us to provide an identification key for those we might otherwise frustrate. But we didn't want the key to be too obvious or prominent. We wanted to have it accessible, but hidden. How to solve this problem?

Robbi had the idea: print it on the sliding pocket doors between the mural room and the kitchen. The doors are almost always closed.

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So now you know where the key is hidden when you come to see the mural. But try to use it as a last resort. I'd like to think that every reader of the mural should be required to puzzle the thing out for a few minutes, at least, before consulting with the key. At least until one gets a neck cramp.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:41 AM

May 11, 2009

And Now for the Fun Stuff

Now that the lines have been transferred and the portraits are painted in, Robbi gets to enjoy the most gratifying part of this process, which is painting in the linework. The simple black line is everything, adding dimension and definition to the paint-by-number patches of solid color that provide the background and shading for each portrait.

For example, here is Leo Tolstoy, recently emerged from blobby color blocks into the sharp, odd-looking man that he is.

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And here is the newly-detailed Francis Bacon. Notice the linework template taped next to him for reference.

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And Allen Ginsberg. What a beard.

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And Poe, poor tortured man.

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In our mural, he gets to go to a Ravens game with Ernest Hemingway.

Here is the artist at work. Painting on the ceiling is plain awful.

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Caroline has continued to be a huge help.

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And here is the mural as it is tonight, waiting in the darkness of the sleeping Lit House for the new day and Robbi's return.

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Posted by bogenamp at 12:59 AM

May 10, 2009

Working on the Mural, Day 5

Robbi and her stalwart band of students are in the midst of day five of mural painting. Below are photos of days three and four.

For the most part, the students have been working on painting in the 50 portraits while Robbi continues transferring all of the lines and words to the wall. Robbi printed out a color template of each portrait. The template includes just the major color blocks but not the black lines, which Robbi will add at the very end.

Here is Liz painting in Charles Dickens using the Charles Dickens color template.

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Slowly but surely, the various portraits are starting to emerge. (Notice the handsome portrait of Edith Wharton, the Lit House cat/mascot/spiritual leader.)

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Robbi reports that the portraits on the four walls were the first to be painted. Everyone was somewhat leery of venturing onto the ceiling (where at least half of the portraits appear), as painting on the ceiling is uncomfortable, difficult, and painfully slow. Caroline was the first to take the plunge and attack the ceiling portraits.

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She has been boldly painting them ever since (joined by Liz, in this photo).

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Here's a long view of the room.

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You may have noticed the blue stripes in the photo above. These are the masking lines that will help Robbi and the students paint the crisp gray lines that will connect the various portraits. They are slowly emerging across the ceiling and walls.

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And even across doorways.

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Robbi has been working from mid-morning to the middle of the night for the last five days. I get the sense that the students are starting to feel sorry for her. Yesterday, one of them baked her a cake.

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And today, Caroline made her a grilled cheese sandwich.

As Robbi continued to transfer the strips of words (the phrases that link the various portraits), she worried about throwing any away, in case they might be needed again in the case of some unexpected mural-related emergency (stranger things have happened). Given that they were covered with tape, and bent, and difficult to store in any reasonable way, she started hanging them off of her ladder, creating a piece of inadvertent installation art that she has now grown somewhat attached to.

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I expect to find it in the middle of the living room when I return to Chestertown.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:18 PM

May 09, 2009

The Gardens

Yesterday started, as all days should, with breakfast.

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After breakfast, we had lunch. Lunch looked a lot like breakfast.

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After lunch, John, Judy, Alden and I headed for Powell Gardens, a botanical garden about 15 miles east of Kansas City.

In addition to being full of beautiful plants and the like. Powell Gardens has enormous sculptural insects.

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And dramatic fountains.

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And a whole network of running water features.

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Alden was fascinated with the water. Usually the only access she gets is in the bath or when we forget to put Iggy's water bowl up and out of reach. Yesterday at the gardens, we let her play and splash to her heart's content.

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We brought the stroller along, but for the most part, Grandpa John was happy to play packmule.

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Powell Gardens has a beautiful wedding chapel.

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It is simple in design, exaggerated in its verticality, and there is so much glass that the line between inside and outside is blurred.

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Up on the hillside is a structure that feels like a cross between a pagoda and a Frank Lloyd Wright concoction.

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The gardens also had a wooded area full of flowers and bushes that thrive in the shade. We came upon these two old chairs covered with lichens, and I found myself missing Robbi.

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When we emerged from the woods, we saw the chapel again, this time from across the pond.

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Alden, who has recently learned to walk, spent some time practicing her "controlled descent" skills on a hillside by the water.

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When she was done, Grandpa John gave her a dip in the pond.

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Alden was tuckered out from all the fun and fell asleep in the car on the way back from the gardens. We didn't let this foil our plans to go out for dinner. I lifted the sleeping baby from her car seat, carried her into the restaurant, and deposited her in the booth next to me.

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The restaurant was a little chilly, and lacking a blanket, I had to improvise.

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Fortunately, she is still small enough to be completely covered by a napkin. She remained this way for most of the meal. The place was Peachtree, a Kansas City restaurant that promises "soul food with elegance." If you are in the mood for baby back ribs, sweet potato muffins, collards, mac cheese, fried green tomatoes, and okra, I offer my hearty endorsement.

I also recommend bringing a sleeping baby.

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I have to believe that her presence added something to my enjoyment of the meal.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:33 PM

May 08, 2009

Working on the Mural

The following is a dispatch from Robbi, who early this morning completed her second full day (and first full night) of working on painting the Literary House mural. She worked from 10:00am on Thursday to 6:00am this morning and still had the fortitude to send these photos and commentary for me to post. With much respect and without further ado:

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I laid out the mural in a page layout program in my computer so that I could print the entire thing out and transfer it directly onto the Lit House wall by using transfer paper (kind of like the old carbon copy paper). I also printed out a mini version/schematic to use as a reference, along with a list of things to remember. Here they are.

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The schematic, alas, is incomplete, since I lost the two side walls somewhere between home and the Lit House. There were very important notes on those side walls.

The life-sized mural printed out as panels on a grid, and we had to hang them as such. Everything fits together like a jigsaw puzzle (except without the little odd-shaped knobbies to let you know that things actually fit properly together). So it took a lot of jiggering and shifting to make things fit. We had, on the previous day, made our first attempt at hanging this grid, but were aghast to find that Kevin Bacon was not where we thought he was supposed to be. He was, in fact, on the opposite wall. I thought I was going to have to totally rework the schematic (again! horrors!) until Joe pointed out that I had just mislabeled the print shop door and the library door and had gotten them reversed. Whoo Nellie. Was that good news. So, anyway. We started with Kevin Bacon and worked our way out.

Note from Matthew: (You may wonder why Kevin Bacon is included in a mural of literary greats. The mural takes its cue from the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and is a satirical take on what might happen if we treated our literary stars in the same manner as we do the stars of the screen. Hence the mural is titled Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, but we felt Kevin deserved to make an appearance. After all, who else would engage in an all-night dance off with the Marquis de Sade?)

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The hanging continued across the ceiling.

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Things got substantially more complicated once we started across the ceiling. Those crossbeams, for one. The humidity in the air, for two, and the general lack of stickiness in the tape, for three. Things were saggy and sad-looking, but I did not despair.

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While I was not despairing at that end of the room, I got Erica and Owen to start hanging paper on the other end of the room. This would prove to be a fatal mistake, but at the time I thought to myself, "There are all these people here who want to be put to work. I must find something useful for them to do. Even if it means that later on, we'll have to move everything, because when the two sides meet in the middle, there will be a 6-inch overlap." Ah well.

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Owen and Joe starting to plaster another wall. These tiles were assembled first on the floor by Nick, then taped up en masse. It was a nice idea, and worked pretty well since we had a lot of hands. This idea, unfortunately, only worked on the walls. Once we started having to deal with gravity and crooked beams and lumpy plaster, it was a lost cause. Tile by tile it was.

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This helpful student started to transfer the linework in a very tedious fashion (not her that's at fault for the tedium - the procedure itself is what's tedious). Later, on my own, and in a more practical state of mind, I discovered just how tedious this method was, and made some adjustments. I just feel sorry that this poor soul had to suffer through the tedious way. Boo hoo.

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Caroline also suffered through the tedious way. The tedious way is to lift each panel, getting it unstuck from the wall/ceiling, slide a piece of transfer paper underneath, then carefully trace the lines with a pencil, which transfers the line to the wall. What I ended up doing was tracing just the outline of the portrait and then using a ruler to place and draw the lines between them. I still have to go back and transfer the words, but there won't be that pathetic wobbliness to the lines that happens when you're craning your neck trying to draw upside-down and opposite-handed.

Nick observed the tedium, and decided that he had made a good decision by remaining on the floor.

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Even Joshua Wolf Shenk, fearless Literary House director helped out. You see, I even trusted him with advanced-level taping technique - the level that involves working around the track for the track lighting.

Actually, I'm telling a bit of a lie. About two seconds after I took this picture, I made him come down so I could work around the track. It was a pain in the ass.

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It's hard to see, but at this point the left wall had been all transferred, and the ceiling was close to being all plastered.

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This photo shows the state of things at the end of the day on Wednesday. We left the room a complete disaster. We were afraid to throw away any pieces in case we needed them, so the floor just got to be a big pile of paper and tape. Whenever you walked around, you would get a piece of tape stuck to your foot, that would then collect paper, and more tape, and pretty soon you're walking around in a big ball of trash. That got all trampled and torn, but we still didn't want to throw anything away. Since printing this thing out takes a long time, and there's no way I can tell it just to print out one part of the mural (without some recropping etc of the file), I just didn't want to risk it.

This is the sign we left overnight.

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Painting started happening on Thursday morning. I was still drawing lines and transferring stuff on the ceiling, but because of all of the shifting that had occurred (and because I hadn't really accounted for the track lights) I sort of had to make adjustments as I went along, which basically meant I was the only one who could be working on it at the time. So I had the students start doing paint-by-numbers on the portraits. Here is Mike painting in Poe. He had to leave early to attend a crab-fest, which was a particularly dirty insult to the rest of us.

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Our friend Emily Kalwaitis (who is a real-live painter) came to help.

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And mom and dad brought sushi!

It was SOOOOO yummy. I took a picture to make you jealous. You can see the paint-by-number cutouts in the background. The idea is the painters take the cutouts, transfer the interior detail, and paint in the blocks of color. Then I'll go back and do all the linework myself.

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Caroline a careful and exacting painter. And she loves Edith. So she got to paint her. I was trying to figure out why our paint was so runny and not opaque. I guess because it's house paint. I forgot that we weren't going to be covering huge areas of color. I could have bought artists acrylics. We did end up replacing a couple colors, but some of the house paints look fine.

Note from Matthew: Edith Wharton the cat is the long-time Literary House mascot. Given her literary name and her central place in Lit House culture, it seemed appropriate to include her among the towering greats of the canon. The other, less beloved (to the Literary House community, anyway) Edith Wharton also appears.

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Caroline had to finish Poe because of Mike leaving us for his stinking crab fest.

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The portrait painting continued at the far end of the room.

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As the day wore on, people started disappearing. Caroline and I were the only ones there from about dinnertime to midnight. She amazed me by painting with one hand and eating a popsicle with the other. Upside-down, no less, because it was a really awkward corner she was in.

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This is how the room looked at 4:00 this morning. After Caroline left, I finished transferring all the lines and circles so that people could keep painting in various portraits the next day, while I transferred the writing. I decided it was time to clean up, so I would know which bits of text we needed to keep and how much of the rest we could recycle.

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Iggy insisted on helping.

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She barked at the cleaning lady like a maniac when she came in a little after 4.

This is how the room looked when I left. Still a lot to do, but we're coming along.

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I'm so tired, I have to go to bed now. I'm going to try to get back there for another long day tomorrow. It's gotten light out in the time that I've written this.

Good night.

----

I edited out the mushy stuff, which was mostly directed at Alden, anyway.

I'll post more photos as the work continues. If you happen to see Robbi sleeping on a sidewalk or slumped over her shopping cart in the grocery store, please give her a helpful nudge and a compassionate pat on the shoulder. These are the sorts of responsibilities that would fall to me, were I in Chestertown this week.

Posted by bogenamp at 08:28 AM

May 07, 2009

Back to the Ballpark

Dad and I went to the ballpark again the other night. Zack Greinke, coverboy of this week's Sports Illustrated and the best pitcher in all of baseball (so far) this season was on the mound against the division rival White Sox. It was a gorgeous night.

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As usual, Greinke was pitching well. The crowd was into it.

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The very large scoreboard was still very large.

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We bought $5 nosebleed seats to get through the gate, but instead of actually sitting in them, we wandered around throughout the game. One of the places we stopped was a narrow band of seats just above the right field wall. We were almost close enough to the right fielder to reach out and touch him.

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Almost.

Another stop was in a new bank of seats in the deepest part of the outfield, just next to the legendary fountains. I was intrigued to find this sign affixed to the wall there.

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I could imagine the occasional home run ball landing in these seats and posing a threat to the onlookers. But a bat? I'm not sure Paul Bunyan could have thrown a bat the 400+ feet it would have had to travel to reach those seats. But I suppose it is better to err on the side of caution in such matters?

The Royals won. Greinke pitched a complete game shutout, his third of this young season. For those of you who don't know about these things, that's quite an accomplishment. The Royals lead their division by 3.5 games. There is excitement in the air in Kansas City. My dad, for example, is full of uncommon optimism about his baseball team.

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It's very early still, but led by Greinke, this team is proving its detractors wrong, one game at a time.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:12 PM

May 05, 2009

More Sleeping

Alden was up for about 90 minutes, during which time she ate a hearty breakfast and played for a bit.

But now she is back to the good stuff.

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Posted by bogenamp at 01:52 PM

Oh, to Be a Baby

The Missouri sunshine woke me early this morning. Alden, not so much.

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Posted by bogenamp at 09:19 AM

May 04, 2009

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

Robbi and I have been asked by the folks at the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College to imagine and produce a mural in the house's entry room. As is our fashion, we pursued the most complex and time-consuming idea that we could think of. It is titled Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll share the press release, which gives a pretty good idea of what we're up to:

Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr of Idiots'Books are in the process of creating a mural that will greet Lit House visitors with a satirical take on history of the written word. Taking its cue from the popular game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon", the mural functions as an elaborate web of literary associations. Robbi will paint portraits of fifty or so major writers on the four walls and ceiling of the Lit House entrance room. Each writer will be connected to various others with language describing the relationship. For example, Leo Tolstoy will be connected to Walt Whitman with the phrase, "won a beard-growing contest with," and Charles Dickens will be connected to Phillip Roth with the words, "accidentally sang a Christmas carol to".

By way of disclaimer, the mural makes no claim to accuracy, comprehensiveness, or fussy deference to the history of literature. A few of the writers featured include Shakespeare the Marquis de Sade, J.K. Rowling, John Barth, Danielle Steel, Ernest Hemmingway, the dude who wrote Beowulf, and yes, Francis Bacon.

Please join us at 2:30pm on May 16th, when the completed mural will be unveiled on the occasion of John' Barth's reading.

One of Robbi's tasks while I am in Kansas City has been to render all 49 portraits, to lay out the mural in a page-layout program, and now, starting today at 2:00, to paint the sucker with the help of a small army of Washington College students.

In her fashion, Robbi has been staying up all night to get her prep work done. To give you a glimpse into the mind of the artist, I will document my email inbox as it greeted me this morning.

1:54am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Mark Twain

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2:09am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Danielle Steel (containing unprintable editorial comment about the portrait's subject)

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2:32am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Murasaki Shikibu (who wrote Tale of Genji)

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2:46am: email from Robbi containing portrait of James Joyce

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3:05am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Stephen King

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3:24am: email from Robbi containing portrait of The Dude Who Wrote Beowulf

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4:45am: email from Robbi containing portrait of William Shakespeare

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5:10am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Allen Ginsberg

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5:53am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Walt Whitman

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6:14am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Samuel Beckett

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6:28am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Edgar Allan Poe

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6:47am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Ernest Hemingway

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7:21am: email from Robbi containing portrait of Henry David Thoreau

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At this point, the flow of emails suddenly stopped, which leads me to believe that Robbi is slumped in her painting chair in a deep and dreamless slumber. When she will emerge is not known. But what gifts she has left us in the night.

I marvel at the sheer productivity can transpire when you steal an artist's baby, give her a Cintiq, and put no limits on her ice cream consumption.

Stop by the Lit House after May 16th to see these and the other 36 portraits in full painted glory. And come read the story of how they are connected. And if you happen to be in Chestertown at 2:30 on May 16, come hear a reading by the legendary John Barth, one of the most important literary voices of the 20th Century. He, too, has a role to play in Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:05 AM

May 03, 2009

On the Town

Our first three days in Kansas City have been cloudy, rainy affairs. Today the weather broke and we decided to get outside and enjoy the sunshine.

We headed out to visit an old friend. Alden enjoyed the sticks in her yard considerably.

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Next we paid a visit to Gates Barbeque, a fine Kansas City institution.

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Alden got cranky as we waited in line.

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It was good that we had a little extra time, however, as had a bit of trouble deciding what to order. Pork, beef, chicken? And what sides? And what to drink?

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Ultimately, she settled on a full slab with fries, beans, slaw, pickles, and a pitcher of diet pepsi.

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After lunch, she took her very first pony ride.

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We put a quarter in the pony, which made the pony dance and the child respond with great surprise. I took a movie of the event and sent it to Robbi, who wrote an email accusing me of cruel and unusual behavior. I contend that the child had a very good time. Though perhaps a pony ride is not the best thing to do with a gut-full of Gates ribs.

Fat and happy, we headed to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art for some culture.

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We strolled in the sculpture garden.

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Alden did some thinking with Rodin.

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And was totally disappointed that she hadn't brought her racquet when she came upon the giant shuttlecock.

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The grounds of the Nelson are beautiful, and amply dotted with sculptures by Henry Moore.

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Full of grease and culture, we decided that we needed carrot cake. And apple juice.

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But mostly carrot cake.

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Posted by bogenamp at 10:24 PM

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Grandpa John has been taking his role as Alden's host very seriously. So when she said that she wanted to go to a Royals game, he packed her in the car and drove her over to the stadium.

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It was kind of a rainy day, but the guy on the radio said that the game would be played. The stadium has just undergone massive renovations, including the installation of the largest video screen in the world (or at least in the state of Missouri).

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The new stadium has a kid's section. Complete with a carousel. Alden rode on Slugger, Kansas City's cheerful lion mascot.

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And honed her sliding skills.

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There was a 40-minute rain delay, but by the time the first pitch was thrown, the sun was shining.

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After the initial excitement wore off, Alden made herself comfortable doing what she does best.

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The day was beautiful.

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Either the pitchers were off or the hitters were on, but there was a lot of offense. The first few times the Royals scored, the crowd went wild and Alden thought that she was being attacked by rioting Midwesterners.

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As the game wore on, we did some exploring. Apparently the statue of liberty has been shrunk to a fraction of its former size, painted blue, and moved to Royals Stadium.

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Royals Stadium is known for its outfield fountains. The renovations allow the fans to get right up next to them.

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Alden was amused by their unpredictable patterns.

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She and Grandpa John got sprayed by one particularly strong blast.

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Of course, she paid homage to Royals legend George Brett.

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We're not sure how much of the game she was able to absorb, but every once in a while she'd turn to one of us and make a particularly incisive comment about the merits of this or that aspect of the proceedings on the field.

Apparently, she is not a fan of small ball.

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"Swing for the fountains, is my motto," she told us.

Posted by bogenamp at 09:02 AM