Monday, October 12, 2009

Meeting Mommy's Boyfriend: A 3-year old's first trip to the Texas state fair

This weekend we took Mikel and Ty to the state fair in Dallas, and it was great to see a three year old get to experience that for the first time. Of course, spending so much time on the little kids' midway meant the adults didn't get to see the exhibits we might have chosen, but the little one had loads of fun.

On the drive to Dallas I kept telling Ty she would get to meet "Mommy's boyfriend," ribbing her mom to say she had a long-time crush on "Big Tex," the giant statute at the entrance to the Midway at Fair Park (pictured above). Since all over the fair Big Tex is used as an icon, this elicited cries of "that's mommy's boyfriend" every time she'd see an image of him. Mommy was tickled but a little mortified, which was of course the desired effect - I thought it was hilarious.

Of all the things she saw - from the carnival barker with no legs to a diver take an 80 foot plunge into a 10 foot pool of water (definitely a don't try this at home moment), what Ty loved most were the Midway rides she took with her Mom. It was all ridiculously cute. I've got a lot of fun memories from the state fair when I was a kid and I hope Ty will too when she's old enough to remember what will probably become annual pilgrimages, just like we did with her mom when she was still a youngster living at home.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

3 Fun Outings in Austin, and a Baby's First Poem

I had three fun outings last weekend with the grandbaby, Ty, now almost 3, who was with me when her daycare was closed on Friday and then quite a bit over the weekend.

On Friday, she and I went to Zilker Park and Ty enjoyed the wonderful converted fire truck that they've transformed into a platform for slides and monkey bars. She also loved the huge statutes of seals, which are usually fountains, though she was disappointed that (thanks to Stage 2 drought restrictions) they had the water turned off. And as always, we spent a loooooong time on the swingset, where she would happily be swung as high as you can push her for as long as you're willing.

Quite a few other kids were there, maybe 9-10 or so, all supervised by Moms; I was the only man there with a child. One youngster turned out to be from our neighborhood; her mother recognized Ty from playing at a neighborhood park up the street.

After an hour or so on the playground, we got a (much anticipated) snow cone at the snack stand and purchased tickets to ride on the kiddie train, which Ty adored. She wanted to sit at the very front (in my lap) and waved to everyone remotely nearby as the train meandered through the park. (Later, recounting the story to Kathy, she told her she'd waved to her "friend with the guitar" as we rode along, by which she referred to a long-haired fellow who was playing the guitar by the tracks who waved back to her, smiling as we passed.)

Ty was thrilled when the train went through the tunnel at the very end of the trek, holding her breath and squeezing my neck as we went through, then announcing excitedly when we came out the other side, "It's not scary, I wasn't scared!" Throughout the rest of the weekend she kept bringing up that tunnel, which apparently made an impression on her.

After her Mom took Ty for the afternoon, she came back to spend the night with us, and the next morning after breakfast I took her to hear children's books read on the second floor of Book People's downtown Austin store. This was her first time there and the outing was a big hit.

The reader had chosen books about magic - one about a witch who turns her dog different colors, another about a little girl who uses a magic wand to create a menagerie of friends while alone in her room. Afterward, they passed out paper, crayons, and supplied tape and ribbon to create a "magic wand."

This was a clever trick. First the kids colored whatever they wanted all over the paper. Then you'd roll it up corner to corner, taping it together in the middle so that the coloring shows somewhat randomly on the outside. Then they twisted together one ed and tied on red and white ribbon, which gave the "wand" a pointy feel and a sense of magic as the far end whipped through the air. This cheap, homemade toy was the source of big fun for two solid days after the event.

Just as fun for Ty was running around underneath the bleachers that constitute Book People's little kiddie amphitheatre. She thought that was pretty cool.

On Sunday we had Ty while her Mom went to church (she's just a little too fidgety to sit through a worship service), so Kathy and I took her over to Rosewood Park hoping for a swim. Unfortunately, the main pool was closed (again, presumably because of drought), but surprisingly their lovely kiddie area had all nine fountains going full blast (they're designed for kids to splash and play, not as decoration). On what turned out to be a scalding hot day, that was the perfect way to cool off.

I'm glad Austin has some fun, cool places to take young kids.

A final baby story: Ty recited her first poem on Sunday, at one month shy of three years, I kid you not! :) It's from the wonderful "Book of Hours" - a book of translated Mexican poetry I frequently read to her by the painter Alfredo CastaƱeda. The one she honed in on (though she knows shreds of many of his other poems) is about Little Red Riding Hood. The short poem is illustrated by CastaƱeda with his wife's face in a red hood, with a menacing wolf's eyes and ears vaguely but recognizably imaged in her cape behind her. I can't make Blogger properly indent the last two lines, but the poem reads:

Is your fear like mine, friend wolf?
Mine is growing beneath my clothes
beneath my hair
beneath the color of my name

She recited it without prodding upon seeing the accompanying picture, which has always fascinated her (we've read these poems together over and over). I think it was that picture and her love of the Red Riding Hood story that made her latch on to these words, though admittedly they sound a little odd coming out of the mouth of a toddler. Perhaps somebody read her the story at daycare, but Ty has no books with the Red Riding Hood story in it and I've only ever told it to her subsequent to questions about this poem. Still, she knows the tale inside and out and it's a remarkably frequent reference for her.

I'm going to get a Red Riding Hood book next time we're at Book People for storytime, but I suspect Ty will always associate the story in some way with that picture and her first poem.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Remembering Maggie Lee

What a sad and terrible week it's been. Here's a good account of the extraordinary, jam-packed funeral service in Shreveport for my lovely, departed niece Maggie Lee Henson, and a number of other substantive stories about her and the bus crash that took her life from the Associated Baptist Press:
An astonishing 951 people watched a live webcast of the standing-room only service at First Baptist Shreveport. Maggie was buried in Tyler not far from my mother's grave at Rose Hill cemetery; I'm thankful she's at peace and am now pulling for my brother's family as they struggle to deal with their loss and regain some sense of normalcy. My nephew Jack (10) restarts school this week, so I'm hopeful getting back into that routine will be good for everybody. This whole episode must have seemed like an out of body experience - it would be absolutely annihilating to lose a 12-year old daughter as bright, happy and wonderful as Maggie Lee.

One amazing aspect of this event was the online outpouring of support my brother's family received, evidenced on this page set up for her on the website CaringBridge. John and Jinny's updates and the many thousands of guest book entries are as inspiring as they are heartbreaking.

Thanks to all the friends and readers who've expressed their sympathy and support in this difficult time. I definitely appreciate it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A family tragedy

Say a prayer, please, or give a good thought for my niece, Maggie Lee Henson, who yesterday was in a terrible church bus accident in Mississippi and has been airlifted to Jackson with severe injuries. (See initial coverage.) My brother John is an assistant pastor at the Shreveport church whose bus rolled three times after a tire blew out while taking a youth group to Atlanta, killing one and injuring 27. At this time, Maggie is still not out of the woods and remains in critical condition.

If anyone needed a reminder that everything about your life can change in a heartbeat, here it is. Just devastating. Keep Maggie, John, and his family in your thoughts and prayers, as well as the family of the deceased and the other bus crash victims. They face a rough road in front of them.

UPDATE (July 14): As of this morning, Maggie Lee remains in a coma with a severe brain stem injury. She has nearly died several times and is fighting for her life. Thanks to everyone who's expressed their sympathy and good wishes. They are appreciated.

MORE: See AP coverage of a prayer vigil held for Maggie today in Shreveport.

AND MORE: (July 14, 3:30 p.m., via Caring Bridge): "Latest update on Maggie Lee....Tubes have been inserted to inflate her lungs. The tubes that were put on Sunday were temporary and have been removed. Maggie Lee is getting good air return from this procedure. Medicine has been turned down to ease her out of medically induced coma. Her heart is stable. We are still watching cranial pressure. It is creeping up to 30. Please pray for swelling to subside."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Graffiti as Art in Austin

Fueling the neverending debate over whether graffiti is art or merely vandalism, the UT-Austin art school purchased an outdoor piece by graff writer Shepard Fairey who created the Obama "Hope" poster. The Statesman notes that "Although his Obama poster now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Fairey currently faces multiple vandalism charges in Boston for pasting his work on public and private property."

In addition, some of Fairey's work will be included in a special short-term exhibition at Gallery Lombardi in Austin this weekend. Then on April 4, also in Austin, Spider House Cafe will feature work by a long list of local graffiti artists, sponsored by the Art Seen Alliance.

For the latest in Austin graffiti news, stay tuned to; they'll keep you in the loop.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Wilde in Austin

Last night Kathy and I attended the first performance we've seen at Austin's Long Center for the Performing Arts - a rendition of Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband" put on by the UT Department of Theater and the Austin Shakespeare group, and for my money (@$32 per head) I thought it was an excellent performance.

The play was performed in the round and there wasn't a single bad seat in the house. I won't try to parse the details of the performance, but here's an excellent review that gives a good sense of the event.

The costumes and set were visually gorgeous, particularly the women's dresses which displayed the long trains and high Victorian-era style one might have seen when the play first debuted in London in the 1890s. Some of the "bonnets" worn by the actresses - particularly a hat worn by the woman playing Mrs. Marchmont - were so elaborate and outlandish they almost made me laugh as hard as the dialogue.

I'd not seen this play performed before and it's been 20 years since I read it, so after seeing this performance (which shortened the script to cater to the shorter attention spans of modern audiences), I'm now anxious to go back and read the full text again as it made me laugh out loud nearly from start to finish.

The actors motion, to a person, was incredibly fluid and graceful, and the lilting British accents they adopted gave Wilde's prose an impact they couldn't have achieved in the local dialect. Good choice, IMO, to make it a period piece instead of trying to modernize the setting or script.

One of the actresses in a Q&A after the event said their vocal coach had told them to emphasize the adverbs in Wilde's script instead of the nouns, because it emphasized that what the speaker thought was important was their own opinion, not the actual subject of the conversation. I don't think I'd have noticed that particular affectation if she hadn't mentioned it, but, it's absolutely true that that aspect of their delivery made the humorous lines all the funnier.

The UT MFA grad students who performed the five main roles did an admirable, professional-level job to the point where I can honestly say I wouldn't have expected a higher caliber performance if I'd seen it in New York. Everybody involved deserves a lot of credit.

They'll only be performing the play for one more weekend, so anyone interested should make their plans accordingly.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A serious art museum in Austin? Blanton's permanent collection improving with Latin American additions

Kathy and I went to UT-Austin's Blanton Museum of Art yesterday afternoon, and they've improved their collection a lot since I'd been there last.

A commissioned work covering the walls and stairs at the main entrance - tiles resembling stacked water in rolling waves of blue - really improved the visitors' first impression. And at the top of the stairs leading to the main galleries, they've installed a gorgeous African piece made of metal strips from Nigerian liquor bottles sewn together with copper wire to look (from a distance) like a woven blanket with tribal patterns. Very cool, and a step forward from the European dominated pieces that formed the base of their initial collection.

They're developing a significant Latin American base for their permanent collection - a decision which, as a lover of Mexican art, I can only applaud. Among the new pieces acquired since I last visited was a small painting by David Siquieros, the Mexican painter who once tried to assassinate Leon Trotsky. I didn't know previously that Siquieros was a mentor of Jackson Pollock. You could see from the painting they'd chosen how Pollock's "controlled accidents" may have evolved in part from Siquieros' stylings, though I'm not sure I'd have otherwise made the connection.

An acquisition fund left to the museum by writer James Michener has been used to purchase a number of excellent new pieces from Latin America and elsewhere, including the piece pictured above by Jerry Bywaters, a former Dallas Morning News art critic and co-founder of the Dallas Nine, a group of artists who became known when they (unsuccessfully) tried to get permission to decorate the interior of the Hall of State on the state fair grounds during Texas' centennial celebrations.

I think that's exactly the direction they should take the museum's collection, fulfilling a niche that to my knowledge nobody else has taken. I'm not aware of a serious, permanent collection of Latin American art on US soil, certainly not in Texas, and there's a lot of wonderful historical and artistic ground to cover. Let somebody else do ancient Greece and the European masters.

That said, the European art in the Blanton is certainly impressive, just not in any way unique. I've got a fascination with religious history so I especially appreciate the Christian art from the 15th and 16th century they've compiled, which includes some beautiful pieces. A series of drawings featured in a collection of art from the era of Pope Clement included sketches for larger murals and elaborate drawings of action scenes commissioned for an international Jubilee in 1600. The most vivid of these (and there were several) depicted attacks on soldiers by wild lions. They were beautiful to look at, but quite classical not particularly interesting, as art exhibits go. If you visit big museums with any frequency, you've seen much like it before.

When the Blanton first opened, I was particularly unimpressed with their collection. But by my third visit yesterday, their team of curators had bolstered that initial batch of art with numerous quality additions, giving me hope that, before long, Austin may actually have a serious, quality museum with exhibitions rivaling those in Houston and Fort Worth.

As an aside, by comparison to the ever-improving Blanton, the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum across the street, by all accounts, remains a complete mess - if they didn't have an IMAX theater, I can't imagine why anyone would go there.

That's a source of embarrassment to me because I care a lot about Texas history and think there's much of significance besides nostalgia and schlock for them to present, but that would require more serious and creative curation. Perhaps as the Blanton's collection improves, with a serious museum across the street the Texas History Museum will ultimately be shamed into presenting a more serious collection.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Burn, baby, burn: Flaming timepiece incinerates last year's regrets

Yesterday afternoon Kathy and I went downtown to walk around Town Lake and see the preparations for Austin's First Night celebrations, and I couldn't help but remark here about the astonishing New Year's art project the city of Austin financed for the event.

The city gave artsts a grant to construct an ornate, two-story working wooden clock - a project that took them three months - then for the new year, they invited the public to write on the clock anything they'd like to symbolically get rid of and burned it publicly last night!

I'm pleased and proud to live in a city that spent my tax dollars that way, and clearly from the response we saw to this magnificent piece of art, the public enjoyed it, too. Here's the Statesman's coverage, a Youtube video of the clock once it was fully constructed and here's a clip of them burning it last night - awesome stuff.

Congrats, and thanks, to everyone involved with the project.