Friday, December 20, 2013

Maggie’s First Thanksgiving

Editor's Note: This posting was actually written right after Thanksgiving but delayed because of pressing baby-related concerns.

The biggest achievement of the past week came last Tuesday when Maggie had a major breakthrough with holding her head up. Previously, all tummy time was filled with tears, but she suddenly began to like it, propping her arms up and looking around with her head.

The newspaper published a day early so we were able to leave Wednesday afternoon for Ashley’s grandparents’ house in Somerville, Tenn. When we got there, Maggie was in a very good mood, and we tried on a Santa outfit Ashley’s grandmama got her. It was very festive.

On Thursday, we feasted with Ashley’s family. Charlie appreciated slices of cheddar cheese being added to the menu, along with the ham, sourdough bread and new snickerdoodle bread along with many other delicacies. Ashley continued her venerable tradition of reviewing her parents’ and aunt and uncle’s wedding albums. She says she gleans new information every time, and this year proved no different; she discovered a similar look in her granddaddy and his father in photos from different weddings.

That afternoon we left on the long, long drive across Tennessee on I-40 to visit Charlie’s parents. Maggie again traveled very well, sleeping up until about 15 minutes from our destination. Unfortunately, that also meant she had not eaten in six hours. She was at full pitch when we arrived; her lung capacity impressed our hosts. After a good meal, though, she was her jolly self, and Pap, Gran and Auntie Em enjoyed playing with her.

Our Black Friday shopping was limited to a trip to the Oak Ridge goodwill, where we scavenged several items for the Wallace family’s used gift exchange. Visitors to see Maggie included Pop and Tanya and Lauren.

On Saturday, we visited Aunt Donna’s house for Thanksgiving/Grandmother and Granddaddy’s 60th wedding anniversary surprise party. The happy couple received tickets to the Biltmore mansion and a book with 52 questions about their life from family members, which they are to fill in one week at a time. A worn-out Maggie took perhaps her longest daytime nap ever, more than two hours. She even slept through Uncle Mark drilling a hole in the same room she was sleeping as part of a complicated attempt to install a cellphone signal booster at the remote log cabin on the lake. After we got home, she tricked Gran and Emily by yawning and looking sleepy, but waking up after they put her sleep sack on her. After that she was very happy and laughed while sitting in the recliner. A true Smith, no doubt, who loves a good easy chair.

Maggie slept throughout the visit in a pack and play in Gran and Pap’s room. They really loved having her there, and Pap was very fast to pick her up at the slightest stirring.
Maggie’s development continued at a rapid pace.

In the culmination of a trend, Maggie finally enjoyed her bath on Saturday night, which Pap and Gran administered. She also began wearing this week her sleep sack for both naps and night-time sleep, which seemed to lessen how much she fought sleep. Her love of ceiling fans, first discovered at church in Indianola, continued to blossom. She discovered them within minutes of entering DJ’s house and church in Somerville. She continued talking more and enjoys interactive “conversations” where she can smile and laugh and make sounds back.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Maggie: A synopsis

Our blogging hiatus has ended after more than a year. We'll skip all the boring details and go straight to the part where the baby is born:

Week 1:

Your birth went about as smoothly as those ordeals go, and you immediately showed an alert curiosity in the world around you -- and a preference for being held. Luckily, all four grandparents and Uncle Mitchell were there and more than willing. Pap and Gran stayed with us for a week and helped take care of you. Aunt Emily visited on Saturday. All agreed that you were very sweet.

Week 2:

Gigi and Uncle Mitchell stayed for a week, and visitors also included Uncle Michael and Aunt Allison, Great Granddaddy and Grandmama and Gramps. Similar conclusions about your sweet nature.

Weeks 3-8: The Witching Weeks: 

Ah, but things change. This was a sleepless time, as you stayed up late and would generally only rest being held atop your mother's belly. Perhaps you wanted back in. The purchase of a Rock’n’play sleeping device (sort of like a baby-safe hammock) proved to be a lifesaver. We think stomach problems contributed to your angst.

Week 9: We began a procedure, which we read about in a book, of laying you down in your crib and whenever you cried, picking you up to calm you down. As soon as you were satisfied, we’d put you back down. We exchanged shifts for about an hour and a half at a time for one very long night. But after that first night, you did really well on your own in the crib. We were so proud.

Week 10: Pap and Gran visited again, and Gran discovered your art appreciation, even at this tender age, and would take you around to look at paintings on the walls throughout the house; she also read books to you, and Pap would sing VBS songs, which you really liked.

Week 11: We visited the Frogfest in Leland, which is the birthplace of Muppet and Sesame Street creator Jim Henson. You rode in your stroller and had a good time, although we didn’t stay long. There was an unfortunate confrontation with an overzealous blood donor recruiter, who wouldn’t take no for an answer about giving blood, although she had to eventually. You handled her with remarkable poise for an 11-week-old.

Week 12:

You began to really get good at grabbing things. For about a week beforehand, you would frantically open and close your hands, as if practicing, and get frustrated. But you soon mastered the skill. Two favorite targets were Mama’s hair and a satin blanket. You also dressed as a ladybug for Halloween.

Week 13: While Daddy went to a conference, you and Mama visited Gigi’s, where you showed her co-worker's how strong your lungs were.

Week 14: 

You started getting plumper, including fat rolls on your wrists, and finally made it through church services, both class and worship, without crying.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


We ventured northwest for Ashley's 23rd major league stadium: Safeco Field in Seattle. The game was great: A 3-2 comeback win for the home team in the bottom of the ninth over the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, we decided, in lieu of the day game the next day, to go to the Museum of Flight. Thus, we experienced an underwhelming tour full of arcane information written by engineers instead of witnessing Felix Hernandez pitch the 23rd perfect game in baseball history. But we learned an important lesson: Baseball always trumps science.

Our view from the Space Needle. We ate at the restaurant, which rotates at the top. The food was really good for an expensive tourist trap. The view was great.

Visiting the Jay Buhner exhibit in the Mariners Hall of Fame fulfilled a nearly lifelong yearning of Charlie's.
As was visiting a restaurant bearing his name. No word if they refuse to put onions in any entree.

On the waterfront.

This prototype flying car, which actually flew, was the highlight of the underwhelming Museum of Flight.

Ashley leaps within the Grove of the Patriarchs in the National Park surrounding Mount Ranier. 
And she ascends in a gondola toward a view of the mountain at a ski resort open to regular tourists in the summer.

Mount Ranier.

Safeco Field from our preferred seats, upper deck, behind home plate.
The fatal struggle of the salmon reminds us all of the vanity of life.

And Chief Seattle's stony countenance to be wary when the white man offers you a land deal.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


In shocking defiance of everything he has previously stood for, Charlie is now a co-owner of a dog. Yes, he occasionally jumps away when Crackerjack jumps toward him and doesn't trust him to eat food out of his hand without biting. But overall, the two have bonded well. The connection was cemented when Crackerjack instinctively knew using the bathroom in Charlie's car would be a very, very bad idea, so he held it in until rest breaks after we picked him up from one of Ashley's friends in Nashville.
He was the runt of an 11-pup litter, but is growing a lot already over the two weeks we have had him. His hobbies include chewing leaves, chewing toys, chewing sticks, eating deer droppings and having Ashley rub his belly. His nine-week shots are coming up at the vet on Tuesday.

Crackerjack in the woods

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Land of 10,000 Lakes (and Dan Gladden)

We visited Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., from June 26 to 30. Our initial plan was to notch another ballpark in Ashley's quest to visit all 30 active major league parks. Target Field, in only its third year after replacing the dreary Metrodome, ended up being No. 22 for her (and No. 15 for Charlie).

But we were pleasantly surprised by what else was offered in the Twin Cities. Here's a photo tour of travels.


Our first destination: The downtown, two-story Target, the flagship store for the Minneapolis-based chain. Ashley, a Target aficionado, was delighted. The store is part of Nicollete Mall, a series of shops located downtown connected by skyways. Our attempts to navigate the maze-like skyway, which apparently is quite useful during the winter, mostly proved unsuccessful. We instead took to the streets, enjoying the beautiful weather, gleaming skyscrapers and multitudinous panhandlers.

Target didn't disappoint, although there's nothing especially different from a regular Target store besides being on two stories, which necessitates a special escalator for shopping carts.

We only rented a car one day of the trip and mostly got around using Minneapolis' light rail system. It's relatively new and very good. We never had to wait long, and it only costs $2.25 per trip per person, sometimes less during certain hours. The line goes from Target Field, through downtown, to the airport and finally to the Mall of America. It's roughly a 40-minute trip from one end to the other. We walked to a stop about two blocks from our hotel, the Marquette, which Ashley scheduled using her points accumulated during years of work travel.

The most noteworthy thing about this Mary Tyler Moore statue is that the bronze used to mold it is more malleable than Moore's actual face, which has been permanently frozen into a Jokeresque smile by plastic surgery.

Target Field

Target Field proved to be one of Ashley's favorite ballparks. They took care to make it uniquely Minnesotan, building it with sandstone mined from the state.
For years, Charlie has desired to find a photo for an off-the-wall blog dedicated to pictures of people wearing jerseys of obscure professional athletes. Sadly, the blog is no longer active since we found this picture of a Mike Lamb fan. Lamb hit just .233 with one home run during a partial season with the Twins in 2008.

Former American League MVP Kevin Youkilis, in only his second game with the visiting White Sox after being traded from Boston, takes a cut at a pitch. I think he was late on it.

A view of the Minnesota skyline from our seats.

This delightful sign in centerfield depicts the camaraderie between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The same sign at night. We went to two games: A day game on June 27 against the Chicago White Sox, and a  night game on June 29 versus the Kansas City Royals. We rooted for the home team on both occasions, although the Twins dropped both games.

A fellow fan agreed to take this shot for us, one of the few non-self portraits of the vacation.

The highlight of the Royals game was a rather speedy fan who taunted a host of security guards for some time as he darted around the outfield. The crowd cheered him on, but eventually security mauled him (see lower photo).

Segway tour

The most highly anticipated segment of the trip, for Charlie, was a tour of downtown Minneapolis on Segways, the two-wheeled people movers balanced by gyros. Our tour group consisted of about 11 people, and the trip wound around for about seven miles. It lived up to expectations.

The tour began in a former flour mill district across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis. We watched a safety video, which greatly exaggerated the dangers of Segway travel, thus, scaring many of the tourists.
Thankfully, the guides led us to a concrete pad for some practice. After a few minutes, it became very easy to navigate around. You do it by leaning forward or backward. The hardest thing is standing still; you tend to move a little backward when trying to do so.

Our tour was led by the peerless Gary, a free spirit who seemed to have ridden straight out of the '60s (on a Segway). We had several stops along the 7-mile tour where he'd talk about the history of the area.
This is St. Anthony's Falls, which powered Minneapolis' flour mills for years, as seen from an arch bridge built by 19th century railroad magnate James J. Hill. It crosses the bridge diagonally. The interstate bridge that collapsed in 2007 is just down river and has been rebuilt.

We crossed back over the river (this is a smaller bridge over something other than the Mighty Mississippi) to Nicollet Island, which has a quaint community  and a high school.

 St. Paul

James J. Hill (1838-1916) earned a fortune building the Great Northern Railroad, which went from Minnesota to the Pacific. He was one of the richest men in America and a well-known figure in his day. He built a 36,000 square foot mansion on St. Paul’s elite Summit Avenue to house his wife, 10 children and ego. It was completed in 1891 and had all the stuff that the poorest people today have: running water, electric lights and gas. The common rabble have gotten the last laugh on James J. Hill.

Well, I guess they don't have cathedral-sized organs in their art galleries.

Or ornate staircases wide enough to carry a couch up sideways (Movers love it).

Or stained glass displays.

Or stunning views of St. Paul's Cathedral (built after the home, according to our tour guide, who was very good).

The great man himself.

Not quite getting our fill of Gilded Age finery, we walked to the nearby Cathedral of Saint Paul. 
It’s open daily to the public on hours when when mass isn’t being held. Suffice it to say, the only recognizable feature for us was the tract rack in the back (Ashley picked up a couple about Catholic doctrines).

The 1915 structure is truly grand in its design; it’s something you’d expect to see only in Europe.

But we noted the irony of this ornate building dedicated to a man who spent his life enduring shipwrecks, fighting wild beasts,  being stoned and left for dead, and “being made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things (1 Cor. 4:13)” for the gospel’s sake. (“Offscouring of all things” has always been a favorite phrase of mine. It brings to mind the gunk you scrape off a grill after cooking). A more fitting tribute to Paul would seem to be, in his own words, to become ourselves “a habitation of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).”

Mall of America

Ashley rejoices at the thought of entering the Cathedral of Capitalism, also known as the Mall of America. We spent about three and a half hours there and didn't go to every store. It's pretty overwhelming and lives up to its name. To sum it up, there's a store there that sells only socks. When I started to get cranky, Ashley directed me to the food court, where an Arby's roast beef sandwich revived my failing countenance. I also picked up some Wisconsin squeeky cheese, making the day a success. Ashley showed remarkable purchasing restraint buying only a few items, inclucing some on-sale shoes for me.
The amusement park inside the mall has a lot of rides. We rode one roller coaster, which was a lot of fun.

The Mill City

The Segway tour included free admission to the Mill City Museum, located in a former flour mill. Minneapolis grew to prominence, we learned, using the water fall on the Mississippi to mill wheat into flour. What would become Pillsbury and General Mills had factories on opposite sides of the river. We're standing in one of them here.

The mill was abandoned for decades before eventually burning down. They built the museum out of the ruins. The tour included an elevator ride up the nine-story structure with re-creations of what went on at that level when the mill was functioning.
The odes to Bisquick, Wheaties and the like were large and frequent. We were both surprised about how interesting a museum dedicated to flour could be. We were glad we went.