Tag Archives: grandchildren

In Praise Of The Back Deck

Kids in pool.

Grandkids play on back deck in kiddie pool–only practical pool to own.

If I were a rich man, there are certain rich-man things that I’m not sure I would have. My own airplane, for instance, would seem like more of a hassle than it would be worth—even if I were so insanely rich that I could hire my own pilot and crew for “Joe Air,” I would still put up with commercial air travel.

Planes already go practically everywhere I would want to go, anyway. I’ll gladly just rent a little space on one when I want to go. And no, despite the crash in San Francisco, I doubt I’m taking much risk by doing that—commercial air is probably the safest part of the whole transit system anyway.

I also don’t think that I would own my own pool. Not that it wouldn’t be tempting, to have a cool, clean body of water always at the ready whenever I want. I suppose I consider a pool more practical than an airplane, but even so … there are plenty around that I don’t have to buy. And I don’t want that much garden-tree space taken up by stuff that is not gardens or trees.

Anyway, if my wife or I won the big prize in the lottery, say the half-billion dollar award, she has always said she wants to replace the deck on our house with a three-season room.

I would go along with it, but I would sort of miss the deck, too.

Granted, it’s useless when it rains, and it’s a pain to have to clear snow from it just to ensure none will melt there and enter the house. But on a day like today ….

Well, today we set up a little kiddie pool and had six grandchildren splashing around on the deck. A huge mature maple tree keeps the deck in shade for all but the late afternoon hours, so despite the heat it was not a bad place to be.

It’s the one spot on our property, besides a few hanging baskets or planters on the front porch, where we put in annual flowers. The splash of color they provide is a nice counterpoint to the splashes of water that were happening there today.

The deck used to be where Zoe our dog hung out. Honestly, it’s a much nicer place without her. It’s easy for grandchildren to go out without “going out,” since it has a gate. And a built-in barbecue, which has been under-used this summer.

We should do something about that …

Anyway, a deck is like a kitchen—a homey place where people naturally gather.

So if I win the Powerball, I’ll miss that deck. Although I bet I will like the three-season room, probably even more than the pool and the Lear Jet.



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The Roll Bake-Off And Other Important Events

The nap.

The nap.

On Thursday night, following a long journey from Norwich, England to Amsterdam, then Minneapolis and, finally, to the Eastern Iowa Airport, Amanda and family arrived in Cedar Rapids.

The house will be full again for the next few weeks, as my eldest daughter, her husband and two little girls are keeping us company. We have yet to figure out what we’re doing and where we are going during that time, although I hope we’ll see most of the family in Iowa at one time or another.

Cousins meet baby cousin.

Cousins meet baby cousin.

Anyway, we had a sibling reunion today. Jon, wish you could have been here, but all the others made it.

The play parachute and plastic balls were a hit. Clementines are popular fruit with all of the young set who have been weaned (several have not). Through the miracle of Skype, the English children don’t treat us as strangers at all, and the cousins have been having lots of fun.

After lunch, I even fell asleep on a love seat, with a granddaughter who had crawled on top of me to hear some books read and who also fell asleep.

Play ball!

who Play ball!

For lunch, we had chili and cinnamon rolls. Katy brought over a pan, and I made a double batch. It was dubbed the roll bakeoff—she made her dough in a bread machine, I used my more traditional method. Her rolls turned out lighter, but mine had a pleasant, crusty texture. I think it was a tie on baking. She won on frosting, since she was generous with homemade cream cheese frosting, while I merely opened a can.

Well, I’m looking forward to more adventures. I’ll have a lot of grading to complete by Monday, but then most of the week can be devoted to family fun. I think that will be nice.


More ball play.

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Life When You’re Making Other Plans


Tulips in back garden by house. There’s 6 inches of fresh and old snow on the ground, but not on this garden and the flowers aren’t waiting.

My two new grandbabies, born just weeks ago, will know that life can sometimes be a bit spontaneous.

When a first child is born, his or her parents’ lives are changed forever. A nursery may be prepared, a baby book purchased, scrapbooks filled with locks from the first haircut, or pictures of the first step. The world, at least in that little home, revolves for a time around the tiniest family member.

It’s not always that way for child number two or four.

The grandson and granddaughter who entered the world this February aren’t first children. The grandson is number two, so he’s still unique—he is the baby who changed his older brother into a “brother.” But, he’ll figure out pretty soon that he was never “first.” The granddaughter who entered the world this February isn’t even number two, in anything. She is the fourth child and the third daughter. She has a lifetime ahead of mended, slightly stained clothes and toys that are, well, “broken in.” It is to be hoped that they aren’t usually broken.

Somehow, today made me think of these two new babies, with their melodic, pretty names. One was born Feb. 13. The other Feb. 8.

Both entered loving families, but families long established before their arrival. They will have to work a little extra hard to be heard, to be noticed, to feel the love that I can assure them is and will be there, even if the nursery wasn’t first created for them and the volumes recording their baby lives a bit thinner than the volumes that record the lives of the Number Ones.

After all, love isn’t measured in volumes. It’s measured in how a mother’s and father’s heart can feel just as close to the nd and rd and th kids.

Anyway, why did today make me think of these new babies? It was an odd, typical early spring Iowa day. We started with a heavy snowstorm, but as I write this, the sun is peeking from the clouds and the snow patches on the pavement are rapidly disintegrating. It didn’t exactly move from winter to spring in the course of a day—we have way too much snow for a lick of sun at 30 degrees to make that much difference—but the sunny afternoon sure feels springy.

After the hard labor of clearing the snowfall, I checked the back garden, were new flowers are already poking above the frozen ground. If it were me, little flowers, I might choose a safer, more expected, more protected time.

Like my new grandchildren, you’ll have to take your chances. Life isn’t always totally mapped out or expected. Sometimes, it just happens. But it is always grand.

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In Which The Lady Rides Tree Try Tree

Tristan enjoys a game of "horse" with me. My dad--and oldest sister--used to play this with me when I was  young.

Tristan enjoys a game of “horse” with me. My dad–and oldest sister–used to play this with me when I was young.

I was thinking about child development the other day, because I was lecturing about language in class, and it occurred to me that I have six grandchildren and two more on the way—and only a few have entered their “biographic memory” phase of life.

At ages 4 and 3, Nikalya and Elizabeth are having some experiences that they will later look back and reflect on. It’s hard to tell with Tristan—but he’s old enough that he might, for example, later in life recall riding with me on my bicycle.

As for Amelia, Juliet and our youngest grandson? None has reached the age of 2, yet, and while it’s possible some dim impression of their lives now might persist, for the most part their internal lifelong biography hasn’t even entered the introduction area, let alone chapter 1.

Not that they don’t remember. They just don’t remember in that narrative way which will let them later reflect on events. They clearly know those around them. The three know many words. Amelia, last time she had a sleepover at our house, woke up at 3 a.m. and demonstrated, over and over, to the chagrin of Audrey, that she knows substantial snatches of the “ABC” song.

Anyway, one of my early preschool memories, which must have been from when I was around 3, was of a simple game my dad used to play with us, and that I played with my kids and now play with my grandchildren. Amelia calls it “tree, try, tree,” and will crawl into my lap, fix me with her Queen Amelia gaze, and command, in her cute little girl voice, “tree, try, tree!”

She has a cousin who is about her age. Although the tree-try-tree game, which I’ll call “horse” from now on, is properly done with two knees, the cousins are small enough that each fit comfortably on one knee, so they discovered today that they could have a two-person version of horse from grandpa, which they loved. Maybe it didn’t help that Tristan was sitting on my shoulders at the time, but, to be honest, the grandpa horse got a bit worn.

Anyway, this particular activity requires a small child (or two)—big enough to sit up comfortably on your knees facing you. Have said toddler or child face you, tell them to hang on, and take his or her hands with yours.

Then, you bounce your heels up and down in unison, and repeat this rhyme:

“This is the way the lady rides, tree, try, tree. Tree, try, tree, try, tree-try-tree.” Naturally, you’re bouncing in rhythm to the syllables.

Next, exaggerated the bounce a little, slow the pace, and make your knees go up and down in opposition rather that unison. Hang on tight to little hands as the child sways back and forth. While doing this, chant:

“This is the way the farmer rides, hobeldy hoy, hobeldy hoy, hobeldy, hobeldy, hobelty hoy.”

Finally, bounce your knees up and down vigorously and increase the frequency so that the child feels like he or she is racing. And state, in a slightly increased volume at a quicker pace in time to the quicker bounces:

“This is the way the young man rides, clippety clop, clippety clop, clippety, clippety, clippety clop.”

Of course, you want to be careful. You don’t want to jar the child too much with your gallop, and you want to pay attention should they start to “head bob” because you want to avoid an accidental chin punch. But, with six kids and numerous grandchildren, I don’t recollect any injuries associated with this game of “horse.” Of course, it’s both slightly sexist and disparaging to farmers, which makes it interesting that it came to me from my dad, who fathered six girls (and one boy) and whose family history included some farming. Anyway, the fact that it’s a very old game, at least in my experience, is part of the charm.

The two-toddler versions only requires that you swing your knees back and forth and use your hands to sway the kids side to side for the farmer ride. Other than making sure each kids has a tight grip with two hands on one of your hands, the lady and young man can ride as usual. The middle ride is not exactly the official farmer hobbeldy hoy, but both Amelia and her cousin were satisfied.

Tristan, at age 3, only rode solo—but he enjoyed the ride, too.

Jan 20 update: On Facebook, my sisters pointed out that my father’s final verse was: “This is the way the gentleman rides, gallop-a-trot, gallop-a-trot, gallop-a, gallop-a, gallop-a-trot.” I stand, or sit, corrected.

Jan. 24 update: I tried to use the “gallop-a-trot” line when giving a grandson a “horse” ride the other day.  The result was a near riot. To my spouse and children, what I was doing was “wrong.” Clearly, in my family, the “young man” will always ride “clippety-clop.”  Somehow, there is a case study here in how a folk game and a folk rhyme evolve. Too bad, gentlemen, in the new century you don’t to gallop or ride at all. At least the ladies are still around.


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The New Rock Stars Left Dark Blobs

Audrey helps

Audrey helps Tristan and Nikayla with paint during afternoon art fun.

Where does creativity, or talent for art, come from?

I can’t say that I have much insight, to be honest. While I fancy myself a sort of writer, and I enjoy taking photos and think I’m OK at it, I’m otherwise not artistically gifted. I have not acted since my sophomore year of college, I play and can read only two notes (bass clef top G and A, and that’s my repertoire, baby), and, beyond a limited talent for designing publications, I can’t visually produce any original artwork at all. This white man can’t jump and also can’t draw.

Yet, there is some art talent in the gene pool. My kids each played some musical instrument in school, and my oldest daughter has done quite a lot of interesting visual things.

My personal art history is a bit more embarrassing. I recall once in 8th grade art class that we painted, and I, having no talent, attempted for unknown reasons to render an image of a giraffe. It looked terrible, like some talentless 6-year-old’s attempt. It didn’t help that some of the cute girls in that class teased me about it, with 13-year-old subtly, art class lines like, “I don’t know what to paint. Joe, what do you think … a giraffe?” Titter titter.

If I had magic powers, I would have melted myself away in 8th grade art class—but it’s a good thing none of us have such magic powers at age 13 or most of us would not have seen 14.

Anyway, there was art going on today at my house. Miss Nikayla Sebers and Master Tristan Sebers were having grandparent day today. Audrey took Nikayla to dance class in the morning, and I took Mr. T on a bike ride. We met before noon, packed a picnic lunch, and then walked through “the deep dark woods” on a bike/hike trail next to a nice city park in Marion. After park play and then a quiet interlude at our house (they watched “The Gruffalo,” the walk in the woods must have been inspiring) it was art time.

Audrey had purchased an inexpensive “paint on rocks” kit, so that is what they did. There were no inhibitions and no teen angst about what they created, which is how it should be. In the end, all their rocks looked like they were blobbed with brown or deep purple—colors that are a result of simply swishing around other random paint colors.


An art rock, by Tristan.

But, they were creating, and they were proud. Nikayla held up a rock with a dark blobby paint surface (not that different from the dark rock surface it had started with) and proudly commanded—“take a picture of my rock, grandpa.” So, I did.

Tristan paints.

Tristan paints on a rock.

I do think Nikayla might have some artistic talent. She used window markers recently to illustrate on our sliding glass deck door what is recognizably a cat. On a paper, she drew a circle with a curly mane and glasses for Audrey—and everyone in the family who has seen it recognizes who the messy-maned visage represents. As Nikayla said when she ceremoniously and formally presented the picture to her grandmother—“here, grandma, I drew your husband for you.”

Nikaya paints

Not 100 percent sure, this could be Tristan, but I think it’s NIkayla painting.

Well, I’m flattered. An image of me is in the family art collection on the fridge. And I look a lot better than a giraffe.


“Hey grandpa, take a picture of my rock,” Nikayla says.



The brown cat might look like it’s on the floor of the deck but it’s on the glass of the door. It’s washable marker made for window writing, but it’s been there for a few days.


Portrait of the author, by his granddaughter, on the kitchen art gallery.



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The Eyes of April—What Pretty Peepers Amelia Has

Those eyes

Click on the photo to enlarge. and then come back. What color are those cute eyes? (The yellow patches on her skin are due to imperfectly cleaned morning peaches, and yes, later her face was washed more thoroughly).

What difference does eye color make? I know there has been a lot said about other aspects of our living environment—our cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic groups, birth order, skin tone, height, weight, etc.

What about eyes?

Some “prejudice” exercises in school take advantage of eye color—having a day in which those with brown eyes are special and those with blue eyes second-class, for example. I was never in a class that used that kind of exercise, although I think several of my older sisters were. I wonder how I would turn out in such an exercise.

If brown is up and blue and down one day and blue is up and brown is down the next, were would I be?

Because I have neither brown eyes nor blue eyes. I have a weird sort of in-between color. My driver’s license says “hazel” under eye color, but I don’t really have striking green eyes like you sometimes see—I have very dark hazel eyes which might appear brown at first glance, but which aren’t.

My wife has blue eyes and we raise a blue-eyed crew of kids. Among the grandkids, there are some interesting variations.

Take Katy’s children, for example. Nikayla, age 4, has pretty pale blue eyes. Tristan, age 2, has darker eyes. I think you would call them blue, but as Katy notes, when his pupils are not dilated, he also has brown streaks in the color part of his eyes—and I am not sure what blue eyes with brown stripes are called.

Nikayla's eyes.

This little cutie, Nikayla, just turned 4. Pretty blue eyes.


A calm moment for a little dynamo named Tristan. I think you'd call his eyes blue, but they're darker than his older sister's, and sometimes seem streaked with brown.

And then there is Miss Amelia. What in the heck are those pretty big eyes through which she smiles at the world? In some light, they sort of seem a bit blue, but they aren’t, really. I guess I have the hazel eyes that can appear brown, while Amelia has the hazel eyes that can appear blue.

We are both in between the blue and brown eye worlds. Granted, the human ocular universe as a whole is even more diverse, with bronze to black to grey eyes that I haven’t even considered.  So perhaps neither brown nor grey is not such a lonely place to be.

It’s been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Frankly, what the person thinks and does determines the quality of that soul, and not the tint of the windowpane.

Still, I was struck by eye color just because we had three sibling grandchildren overnight and I spent a fair amount of time with my beard being plucked and babbled at by a cute 10-month-old with, well, I’m not sure what to say. What interesting and hard-to-describe eyes Amelia has.

Amelia and her hair

Amelia and her special eyes--and wild hair, too.


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No Flying Cars or Personal Servant Robots, But We Have Skype

Skype call

Talking and seeing loved ones in Norwich, England--Juju, Amanda and Lizzie on Skype. Matt was cooking.

It’s interesting to look back on the 20th Century and see what people imagined our lives would be like now.

So much of what was imagined didn’t come true. Robots are indeed a major force in our lives, but not because they perform household chores (although there are robot vacuum cleaners) but because they build our cars.

Which, usually, don’t fly.

The evolution of the computer was different than what as imagined before the 1970s—the coming importance of computers was foretold, but usually they were growing bigger and bigger and smarter and smarter, not smaller and smaller and smarter and smarter.

Skype image

Another Skype view. Amanda watches the silly sisters, and so do Grandma and Grandpa.

And, then there were video phones. They have come to pass, not as imagined. If you see a cutie in a bar, you can send an image of her to your friends instantly through your cell—not that I have ever done that, but it’s theoretically what could happen. We didn’t imagine the problem of teen “sexting.”

Video phones, when they were foretold, were imagined like household phones of the time. Yet, today, with a daughter in Norwich, England, we most often converse with her while we see her, via Skype.

What a subtle, but important, change. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a room with Lizzie, but she knows me and has come to call me “Grandpa Joey.”

I remember the first time we used Skype it was the semester Jon was studying in Spain. We had an odd headphone thing that we plugged into our computer and used it to talk via the internet.

Now we have webcams and video. The 21st Century video phone call has arrived, not exactly as imagined, but as an important laptop addition.

Still, it will be nice in 6 weeks to see Amanda, Matt, Elizabeth and Juliet in person. Video phone calls are good, but they aren’t quite the same as being there.

Kermit slipper

Those in the 20th Century could not have imagined how 21st Century man warms his feet.


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