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Fallon Park

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We’ve never completed the Fourth-of-July Challenge at our house, but we do try to make it into June. So far this year, we’ve only been tempted to turn on the A/C a couple of times. Here’s how McLain has been coping with May heat.

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JaM in Fallon Park

JaM in Fallon Park

Shouts to Jackie Jones, William Wegman, and the “dog eating with human hands at the table” genre that never gets old to me.

There was a fall at the end of the video, but no children or dogs were hurt. Maybe Robah will get a seat next time.

My man McLain can flat-out get loose. I introduced him to Gorillaz a few weeks ago, and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. Albarn’s virtual band seems to be the best answer to this question:

What act from the recent past made fun, innovative music that everyone can like, and is also appealing to kids?

So lately, he’s been trying to rap with Del or begging to watch the 19-2000 video. The kid loves his jams…so much so, that I made a trailer for McLain’s new feature film — the movie is a “self-actualization through dance” story (think “Fame” or “Footloose”). Look for it in indie/arthouse theatres around Thanksgiving.

I also dug up the following clip of a 2-year-old McLain (video credit to Alison Saville), and you can see a different style of summertime expression in his technique.

I still don’t have good footage of his biggest contribution to modern dance: corny slow-motion. We’ll work on correcting that.

A couple days after your baby is born, you have to leave the hospital. I was certainly ready to get out of there. But, with your first child, going home with a screaming, mysterious pink infant is a bit of a scary notion. The shock of the hospital experience is overtaken by the anticipation of the future first-day-home experience.

I think I remember packing up our stuff in the hospital room, three days after Jackie was born. Everything was in order, or at least I thought it was. I had tightened the 5-point harness car seat, and was confident that we could drive the 4 miles from Rex Hospital to White Oak Road without endangering mother or child.

Katie was wheelchair-bound, holding a tiny (yet 10-plus pounds) Jacqueline Burns Jones, and I was pushing. I remember the general smell of the courtesy take-home lasagna (thanks, Rex) in the elevator, going down.

I’d noticed the car seat inspector before as I’d entered and exited the hospital. He’d always seemed unusually busy, hovering around the perimeter of whichever minivan or station wagon was parked near the automatic doors. On the second day of our 3-day stint with Jackie, I stood out by the fountain and watched him “work” for about 10 minutes. Was this guy really collecting a paycheck for this? How hard could it be to pull on a car seat and proclaim either “tight enough” or “a little tighter”?

Now, after fetching our Honda, I saw him again. This time, however, he had an unmistakable air of authority. I suddenly realized my true place in the situation — with eyes blurry from fatigue and head pounding, I was presuming to take an exhausted woman and a wriggling, screaming baby out of the hospital and drive them four long miles through curvy roads to a house across town.

The Chief Car Seat Inspector approached the Honda, and asked if he could take a look. “Of course”, I replied, in the most respectful tone I could utter.

He wiggled the car seat, and it gave. It moved about a centimeter from side to side, and I knew I had failed my first test. “Here’s how you get it really tight,” he said to me nicely as I prepared to make mental note.

Now I know the importance his job, and how he often deals with men and women who enter the hospital confident, but leave it humbled and frazzled.

We made it home safely on December 26, 2008. I bet Bax and Beebs are still wondering what hit them.

Here’s Jackie coming home in 2008:

What the...

What the…

 

If you’ll allow liberties so I can make a parallel, there’s a new gatekeeper in our world these days. Melissa drives the J. Y. Joyner Elementary School blue bus, which turns left from Oxford Road and stops at the corner of Alexander and White Oak at approximately 8:53 a.m. every weekday during the school year.

Every morning, Jackie, McLain, and I walk down to meet the bus. They and the other kids play tag or Mother May I (Mrs. Williams is the MC) until the bus makes its turn onto White Oak Road. The first one to spot it (usually a parent) yells, “BUS!”, and the kids are off.

Some days, Jackie rides it home as well.

Here’s Jackie coming home in 2014:

Getting off the blue bus after the first day

Getting off the blue bus after the first day

 

Katie and I, and Jackie too (mostly), have wonderful things to say about JYJ Elementary.

 

Hallowed kindergarten hall at J.Y. Joyner

Hallowed kindergarten hall at J.Y. Joyner

Orientation in Mr. Del's class

Orientation in Mr. Del’s class

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Ever have the itch to create a table? Yeah, me too.

I wanted to start this record of JaM preferences before they fade from memory. Not surprisingly, the entries in the following table reflect my personal interests: language, music, and dogs.

I’ll need Katie’s help to add some more.

Jackie

McLain

______________ _________________ __________________
Catchphrase (under 2 yrs) “What’s that right therrrrrre?” “What’s that guy doin’?”
______________ _________________ __________________
Baby & toddler nicknames BK (Beanie Katie), Chaygers, San Diego Chaygers, Jacks, Bowl Full of Happy Jacks, Jacks on Jacks on Jacks LOB (Little ‘ol Boy), John C. McGinley, Emcee Lain, Bigun, Brooklyn, Sprite Remix
______________ _________________ __________________
First indie rock song sing-along “While You Wait for the Others” by Grizzly Bear — the “OooAaaOooooOooo” part “Wordless Chorus” by My Morning Jacket — the “OoooAhhOooooOoOo” part
______________ _________________ __________________
Favorite dog Baxter (even though he growled at her a lot when she was a baby) Robah (even though he accidentally knocks McLain down to this day)
______________ _________________ __________________
Most endearing mispronunciation “Re-lune-lun” (Reunion) “Gael” and “Waeld” (Girl and World)
______________ _________________ __________________
Favorite adverb to start a sentence “Actually, blah blah blah…” “Yesterday, blah blah blah…”
______________ _________________ __________________
Favorite song from an old kids’ movie “I Want It NOW” sung by Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from Annie
______________ _________________ __________________
Favorite old song that Dad sings poorly “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady, written by Frederick Loewe “I’m An Old Cow Hand” sung by Bing Crosby, written by Johnny Mercer

 

Jackie and McLain and I spend 30-45 minutes reading good books every night. Why did I italicize good? Because this nightly reading time doesn’t just belong to my children. It’s my time, too. I love it, as long as we read the more interesting, fresher books in our home library. And, considering that I’m the only one (until recently) who knew how to read, I had all the power.

It used to be easy. I’d ask Jackie and McLain to each pick 3 books for reading time. When McLain returned with Duck Soup (which we’d just read the previous two nights), or when Jackie brought me any book with flaps or any other types of moving parts other than the actual pages, I’d send them back to the shelves to try again. My wonderful wife was complicit, comfortable with her authority over most other aspects of our home life.

If a selection didn’t have a plot, I’d reject it. Jackie and McLain, accustomed to making multiple book submissions for approval on any given night, would go back to the drawing board and find something their father would accept (like some of the favorites below).

Jones house classics

Some of “our” favorites

Lately, reading time is changing around here, though. I’m losing control. The dictatorship is being democratized. My daughter is empowered, and it’s partially my doing.

Last April, Jackie and I started lesson one in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which is an adaptation of the DISTAR method. She wasn’t quite four and a half years old, but she had been ready to learn to read since she was three. At a rate of about three lessons a week, Jackie was reading at an end-of-kindergarten level by lesson number 75 sometime in September. We stopped following the lessons after she had mastered all of the 40-odd phonemes in the English alphabet.

Now, she’s reading at about a first-grade level. I secretly recorded her with the Berenstain Bears, a book that she was reading for the first time:

Those 80 or so lessons taught me as much about parenting as they taught her about reading. About a one-third of the time, the lessons made one or both of us angry, or at least very frustrated. It’s never easy to correct someone, no matter how old she is or the relationship you share with her; it’s never fun to be corrected, no matter how you slice it. For a child who is extremely bright, it’s important to understand that hard work and dedication trump raw intelligence.

I think Katie and I are realistic about our children’s strengths and weaknesses, just as we acknowledge the good and could-be-better in ourselves. Jackie is a verbal whiz kid. She’s making her own books now, and is quick to remind me that she’s the author and illustrator of these original works. I suppose McLain is next to learn lesson-by-lesson how to take control of storytime (although mini-Charlie Chaplin might be a little more gifted in comedic dramatic arts).

JaM

JaM

First things first. Two of my favorite tracks of 2013 were live performances of holiday standards. The songs themselves are borderline mundane…it’s the vocals that’ll bring a tear to a glass eye.

Now, for the rest of year’s jams…

If there’s one thing I detest, it’s parking in a parking lot and shopping for junk in an actual store. So, it wasn’t until this year that Black Friday had any meaning to me. On the day after Thanksgiving, I heard rumblings of The Walkmen calling it quits.

The official announcement from the band used the term “extreme hiatus”. Since then, I’ve read about the details of the end of The Walkmen.

I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands go from maybe they’ll release something and come to NC next year to something like extreme hiatus. The most extreme extreme hiatus was probably the band Morphine, when Mark Sandman collapsed on stage. When Pavement broke up, I was irrationally surprised and disappointed. When Ween broke up, I was mildly surprised for no good reason. When Guided by Voices broke up, I knew it was a matter of weeks before Uncle Bob found new sidemen.

At 36, I look back morbidly at old mixes or playlists and think of who’s next. But, I don’t get disappointed anymore.

Now that I’m mature enough (on good days) to understand why the grind and the business in general can drive musicians apart, I don’t feel let down in any way. The Walkmen were different, and their breakup affected me differently. I always could relate to their look, their perspective, their point in time. I feel like Katie and I grew into adulthood with Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and Bows + Arrows, into responsible adulthood with You & Me, and into parenthood with Lisbon and Heaven.

For Christmas 2010, Katie gave me tickets to see them at Cat’s Cradle. The show remains one of the best I’ve ever seen and heard, and I remember walking out of the Cradle as the band was packing up. We walked out front, and there was Hamilton Leithauser in his tweed jacket, loading amps and other equipment into their van. Not only was there no roadie to do manual labor; this guy, the frontman and lead singer, was dressed like a private school guidance counselor while doing the dirty work. I told him, “Great show!” as we walked by. He said thanks, and I noticed how tired he looked at 1:00 am, humping gear after putting on a two-hour show.

It’s nearly 2014, so there’s no better tune for tribute than this rendition of “In the New Year” from that night.

Tough decisions…that could be the alternate title of this post. 2013 was a wonderful year for music and life. I should take a cue from the band and move on with things. These are the jams that made me happy this year.

Albums

A few quick notes about my experience with new albums in 2013 and my ground rules for these selections:

  • There are no jazz albums included in the following list, mainly because I didn’t spend enough time with jazz this year. That may be because there’s not enough time to explore beyond the many options in my personal wheelhouse. For the record, my personal wheelhouse is indie rock, hip-hop, and electronic ambient and dance music.
  • 2013 was excellent for hip-hop. If rap music seems underrepresented in this list, it’s only because it didn’t really match the brilliance of everything else at an album level. For example, Kendrick Lamar didn’t release a record in 2013, but every guest verse I heard from him was golden genius. The big names released good albums, and the new artists really
    Note: Yeezus wasn’t that big a deal for me. There are too many outstanding lyricists to include a Kanye record solely based on interesting production and interview-borne controversy. You could easily classify one-third of what I listened to this year as hip-hop.
  • For the first time in my life, I took metal seriously in 2013. I’m just one in millions who see the crossover appeal in Deafheaven’s Sunbather. I remember a few other records that featured screaming vocals, and for the first time I heard so much more than just the screaming. Maybe I’ll wear more black t-shirts in 2014?

These are my 25 favorites of the past year, classified in four tiers. Underneath those are my favorite EPs.

Tier One

Disclosure – Settle
It’s rare that you love a pre-album single (White Noise), you love the second pre-album single (Latch), the album comes out and your kids love the second track and recite the chorus whenever someone says, “Fire” (When A Fire Starts to Burn), and you continue to love the album more and more every time you hear it. Then, you find yourself replaying the FOURTEENTH track on the album months after the album release and decide it’s one of your favorite songs of the year (Help Me Lose My Mind).

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
What more can you ask of these guys? Is matching catchy songs with fascinating production not enough? Nevermind that the overarching theme of Modern Vampires is deep, and that they continue to be witty, semi-annoying, yet lovable. They semi-sample Souls of Mischief and Pachelbel’s Canon in the same song! Someday I’ll play this album for my grandkids and try to convince them that music was fantastic way back in 2013. They’ll laugh hysterically when I explain how Jackie and I would rig up my phone to the car stereo to play the Vevo video of Step just so we could hear the song before it was available in any other format. “Grandpa Andy is ridiculous!”, they’ll say.

Arctic Monkeys – AM
In 2013, this was my comfortable, trusty rock n’ roll sweatshirt. I would put it on any old time of day, and it would make me feel good. It also made me feel a little old, which I am, but also proud of the Arctic Monkeys tradition and evolution. AM proves that really good bands can grow up to become great bands in ten years time. If it weren’t for a couple of tracks that sound a little to classic rock-like, this record might have been my overall favorite in a really good year.

Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
My biggest music-related regret of the year is missing Devon Welsh’s set at Hopscotch. Back in the spring, however, it took me awhile to give Impersonator a fair listen, though. Based on nothing more than the name Majical Cloudz [sic] (is sic necessary here?), I resisted this album even after I read all the glowing reviews at the beginning of the year. I quickly learned how powerful, serious, and downright gorgeous some of the songs are, despite the worst band name since Gauntlet Hair came on the scene.

Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
I think I’ve played this album in its entirety about every two weeks since February, which makes it second only to AM in the comfort-listening category. I remember a local radio guy saying, “I don’t get the whole love song to the ’60s thing.” I also remember my father-in-law hearing it and saying in a wistful way, “This reminds me of older music.” I agree with my father-in-law and the undeniably derivative nature of their sound, but not the radio guy. This album is not some hackneyed attempt at a white album for younguns today who’ve never heard The Beatles. There’s a ton of variety from track-to-track, and the songs are extremely well-written. Plus, Jackie loves the lyric, “I met your daughter the other day…that was weird. She had rhinoceros-shaped earrings in her ear.”

Danny Brown – Old
I saw this dude play an art museum just last year with my wife and my brother. All three of us loved it, but I never imagined he would put together this kind of masterpiece a year later. In fact, before Old, I didn’t know he was capable of any voice other than the likable, but crazed honking type of style. Now I know, low/normal voice is for serious storytelling, and shrill/crazed voice is for when he’s turnt up (or maybe just turnt down for what). Either way, this record shows unmatched versatility AND introspection, which are two uncommon qualities in hip-hop artists.

Haim – Days Are Gone
Are you 30 or older, and love “alternative” music? If so, you might also love this feature Radio-Friendly Unit Shifters from September. Here’s the factoid from the article that had me scratching my head:

After Tracy Bonham’s “Mother Mother” departed the penthouse in June 1996, no solo woman would top this chart for more than 17 years; during that period, only three songs by bands with so much as a female singer (GarbageHole, and Evanescence) would make it to the No. 1. 

Bizarre, isn’t it? I’m sure sexism and other societal contextual factors are to blame. Nowadays I play Days Are Gone for my own enjoyment as much as I do for my daughter to hear three women rockers whose debut album compares favorably to anything recorded in 2013.

Tier Two

The Range – Nonfiction
Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Joey Bada$$ – Summer Knights Mixtape
The Field – Cupid’s Head

Tier Three

Volcano Choir – Repave
M.I.A. – Matangi
The Men – New Moon
Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
James Blake – Overgrown
Deafheaven – Sunbather

Tier Four

White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade
Deerhunter – Monomania
Prodigy & Alchemist – Albert Einstein
A$AP Ferg – Trap Lord
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Best EPs

FKA Twigs – EP2
Burial – Rival Dealer
Phantogram – Phantogram
DJ Rashad – Rollin EP
Wild Nothing – Empty Estate

Songs

The first 30 of my favorite 80 or so songs are listed below, and here’s the link to the Spotify playlist. Or, you can use the player below.

  1. Step – Vampire Weekend
  2. No. 1 Party Anthem – Arctic Monkeys
  3. Help Me Lose My Mind – Disclosure, feat. London Grammar
  4. Childhood’s End – Majical Cloudz
  5. Dream House – Deafheaven
  6. Hood Pope – A$AP Ferg
  7. Will Calls – Grizzly Bear
  8. Numbers on the Boards – Pusha T
  9. Days Are Gone – Haim
  10. Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster – Thee Oh Sees
  11. Temple – Kings of Leon
  12. Only 1 U – M.I.A.
  13. Hold On, We’re Going Home – Drake
  14. Monomania – Deerhunter
  15. You’re Not Good Enough – Blood Orange
  16. Comrade – Volcano Choir
  17. We No Who U R – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  18. Ya Hey – Vampire Weekend
  19. Dubstep – Danny Brown, feat. Scrufizzer
  20. Fireside – Arctic Monkeys
  21. Ain’t That The Way – Divine Fits
  22. The Fall – Rhye
  23. Never Run Away – Kurt Vile
  24. Shout It Out – Mikal Cronin
  25. Brother Bryan – Waxahatchee
  26. Shuggie – Foxygen
  27. Sunday – Earl Sweatshirt, feat. Frank Ocean
  28. Lose Yourself to Dance – Daft Punk, feat. Pharell
  29. Overgrown – James Blake
  30. White Noise – Disclosure, feat. AlunaGeorge

As I get older, and as time flies faster, I find that my happiest moments occur when my interests converge. The more I can combine the things I love, the richer life seems to be.

Of course, the variables in life often disrupt planned convergence;  a thunderstorm ruins an outdoor concert on a spring night, or a mundane phone call interrupts a meaningful face-to-face conversation.

Nightly, I appreciate one example of happy convergence at our house:

Kids + Books + Dogs

Every night that we’re home, we read for at least 30 minutes (usually closer to 45 minutes). Inevitably, one of the books we read has a canine protagonist. I’m very critical of kids’ books (and ice cream, and sports-celebrity tweets, and car model names, and most all things), and I decided to evaluate a literary genre that gets a lot of run around our house.

I’ve made a list of our top ten kids’ books about dogs, and I already know what you’re thinking — for some strange reason, this guy is putting his favorites in this list and his kids probably don’t care if the books are about dogs or robots or guinea pigs building sand castles. Well, that’s true. But, I’ll tell you the secret requirement that every good young-children’s book MUST have: adults have to enjoy reading it to them. Otherwise, it’s not as much fun for reader or audience.

Our favorite children’s books about dogs

The Best Pet of All

The Best Pet of All
There’s something about the illustrations in this book that I love, even if I can’t put my finger on it…something about the Californian, 1950’s style. More importantly, I never get tired of reading this one. It has some very funny parts, and the moral of the story is evident from the title.


 

 

 

 

Go Dog, Go!

Go, Dog, Go!

If I judge this book by the typical criteria for kids’ or adult books, then it’s a dud. There is no plot, and there are no characters. However, it works as a great beginning and ending to early childhood (bookends, if you can excuse the punny metaphor). It’s simple and colorful enough to engage a baby, and the clear connection between text and images make great material for a child learning to read.

 

 

 

The Blue House Dog

The Blue House Dog
I have read this aloud to my kids only four times total. Each time, I was sobbing uncontrollably before getting halfway through. I mean full-on weeping, unable to speak. Jackie and McLain give me confused looks, and assure me that “it’s okay Dada.” In fact, the last book that sparked this kind of emotional outburst in me was Where the Red Fern Grows. That book, and this one, reveal why dogs are so amazing.

 

Dog

DOG
Great photography, with creative moving parts and simple text. Two GSPs are featured, and the part that reads, “all dogs poop…all dogs pee” never fails to get laughs.

 

 

How Rocket Learned to Read

How Rocket Learned to Read

I’m teaching Jackie to read now, and sometimes she’s really averse to instruction. This book reminds me that nothing worth doing is easy, and that anything worth learning requires practice.

 

 

 

 

Duck Soup
Duck Soup
This one tops the list of all-time McLain favorites. In fact, it was the first book that McLain requested on a regular basis. It’s a stretch to include it in a list of books about dogs, but one of the main characters is a Saint Bernard named Brody (my first family dog when I was a kid).

 

 

The Diggingest Dog
The Digging-est Dog
We all like this classic, but I put this on the list for Katie’s benefit — it’s one of her favorites, and Nana tells us that she memorized it when she was 5 or 6. If you want to overanalyze it, I think there’s a theme in the book about how dynamic (and even fickle) childhood friendships can be in group settings. No? I’m reaching? Well, we’ll just have to ask Al Perkins about that.

 

 

 

 

Pipiolo and the Roof Dogs
Pipiolo and the Roof Dogs

The plot in this one is too complex for McLain, but I read it to them every couple of months for two good reasons:
1) It teaches how important the olfactory system is to a dog, to the point that the lives of roof-confined dogs are changed when they are given uprooted plants to smell. Awesome.
2) Jackie always has lots of questions about other cultures, and this book provides talking points for the role of animals in other places, in other times.

 

 

Skippyjon Jones

skippyjon
Another McLain favorite. This one is a fun tongue-twister to read, and the idea of an imagination-crazed cat pretending to be a dog is plain funny. Add Skippyjon to the list of McLain monikers (along with LOB, John C. McGinley, and Budbud).

 

 

 

Puppies

Puppies
This one is a nostalgic pick for me. The edition we have was a gift from my Grandmother Jones, with an inscription from her, dated 1982. It’s really just a picture book of puppies, and it almost seems that it was created with the sole purpose of making people see pictures of cute puppies so they will want a puppy of their own. Another interesting fact about this and other animal books from this publisher — there are at least 4 different covers.

 

 

 

The Best Pet of All?

 

 

Someday in the near future, Baxter and Robah will die. I love my boys (and often refer to them as “boys” rather than “dogs”), but I don’t allow myself to ignore the difference between their mortality and my own. They’re middle-aged dogs who have fewer days left than this approaching-middle-aged human.

I don’t even want to speculate about life after Robah, but I have been thinking a lot about Baxter dying lately. He’s the older of the two, and goodness knows he’s injury-prone. After I have him cremated and fill a Penn #2 with his ashes (which will have a prominent mantel resting spot), I’ll think often of what I miss about him.

I’ll also think about Baxter memories that I don’t miss. For example, taking Baxter to the vet.

https://vine.co/v/bT5jzvIiqbK
https://vine.co/v/bT5tBbxwjEd

Notes:

  • Baxie especially hates the bordetella vaccination that gets applied to his nose. I meant to get some footage of the part where the vet put the hard plastic muzzle on Baxter during this part of his exam, but I figured that being the “master” of a crazy dog was bad enough; being the master of a crazy dog and recording video of the dog getting muzzled is shameful.
  • These are my first Vines, but I really see a lot of potential in this medium/tool. The six-second of video limit should be enforced on other parts of the web and other social networks.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

I took this post-apocalyptic picture outside Jones Barber Shop in Raleigh last year.

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