Category Archives: Family

Faces

A couple of weeks ago, I walked in to a nice, sit-down restaurant, with a smile on my face. It’s the kind of restaurant with folded cloth napkins on the tables. “Table for three, please” – as Jacob and Oliver were with me.

This much isn’t unusual. I have periodically taken them out to eat for quite some time, and they enjoy it.

But there were a few unusual things about this particular day. I suppose the main one is that they had just been doing this.

Yes, painting your own face can be a lot of fun. And also serious business.

The boys and I were in Santa Fe, NM on a train trip. It had been a year since their last train trip, and that’s longer than they are typically used to. I’d taken Jacob on a train trip with just the two of us before, but this was the first trip with just the two boys and me.

And one of the places we visited was the excellent Santa Fe Children’s Museum. It may be the best children’s museum I’ve ever seen. Not the largest, or the flashiest, but that’s part of the reason I say “best”. They had chimes (and many other percussive “instruments” to produce different pitches, including mounted hubcaps and varying length wooden planks). They had a great magnets table with washers and nuts, so children can build their own bridges, stairs, etc. using magnetism. A giant bubble table, tunnels to crawl in outside, etc. A great place.

And, apparently, the thing they were really known for — I did not know this in advance — is the paint your own face station. Jacob and Oliver really got into it. Oliver informed me he was a lion and I heard “ROAR! ROAR!” periodically all afternoon. Jacob asked me to help paint a J, and the spirals, on his cheeks. After some careful thought, he informed me that he was “spiral man”.

Next to the paint your own face area was a clean your own face area. Most kids were being helped to clean their own face by their parents on their way out. Jacob and Oliver protested that plan, so I figured, if they want to enjoy painted faces all day, why not?

And this, of course, led into lunch with self-painted faces. Nobody at the restaurant commented, but the owner had a huge grin when he saw them. (It was a Mediterranean place, and I’m sure the owner would have commented had there not been a language barrier.) Incidentally, the boys became quite the fans of souvlaki.

Later, as we walked around Santa Fe Plaza and another museum, they drew smiles all over the place. Several kind people asked them, “Did you enjoy the children’s museum?” Yes, everyone in Santa Fe seemed to know precisely where kids with painted faces had been that day.

Santa Fe is an amazing and beautiful city. It was warm and friendly, and the architecture and layout was fun to see – and pedestrian-friendly. We walked past the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi several times, and went in once. For some reason I could never fully explain, I could often smell their incense even a block or two away. It added to the crisp wintry feel of the plaza.

The point of the trip wasn’t Santa Fe, though. It was Jacob and Oliver on Amtrak, which is the thing they were really most excited about – of course. They were excited as usual, and despite the fact that the train comes through this area only at around 3AM, were plenty excited to be on the train. And, in fact, didn’t fall asleep again until about 5 due to the excitement (though they did an excellent job of being quiet). Of course, 6AM was “morning” so they were wide awake by then.

Jacob had been planning what he’d eat on the train for days already, and had announced he would be having French toast for breakfast and pizza at lunch. He was a bit disappointed to see that French toast wasn’t on the menu this time, but pancakes saved the day.

While waiting for the dining car to open at 6:30, we went to the lounge car for awhile. I had brought along various things for them to do on the train, of course, and among them was a notebook and some markers. Jacob loved drawing suns and stars, and sometimes writing short notes. He gave notes to several friendly people that happened to be visiting with us on the train. Oliver enjoyed it too, but he was more intrigued by the cheap set of multi-colored post-it notes.

There were two happy, and somewhat tired, boys getting off that train in the middle of the night when we returned.

The world is still a good place

At times like these, it is easy to think of the world as a cold, evil place. Perhaps in some ways, it is. I saw this quote from Fred Rogers floating around today:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

Sometimes I think that Fred Rogers’ wisdom is so often under-appreciated. What he says is true, very true.

I know what it’s like to fear for my child’s life. And sometimes the shoe has been on the other foot, when I have been one of the helpers.

Many of you know these last few months have been the most difficult in my life. And despite having gone through the deaths of three relatives, nothing has quite compared to this.

I can not even begin to express my gratitude for all the care, compassion, and love that has come my way and towards the boys. People I barely knew before are now close friends. Random strangers have offered kindness and support. I have never before needed to be cared for like that, and in some ways perhaps it was hard to let myself be cared for. But I did, and all that caring and generosity has made an incredible difference in my life.

Most of us don’t see our pain on CNN or BBC, but that doesn’t mean it’s less real. And it doesn’t mean there’s nobody that cares. Open up to others, let them care for you. Things can and do get better.

The people in Newtown did nothing to deserve this. No matter what evidence is found, they will never get an adequate answer to “why?” Children have been frightened, families torn apart, lives ended, for no reason at all.

But they will survive the terrible pain. In time, they will find happiness again. And they will feel love and compassion from people around the world — something to sustain them in their grief. I am certain of this.

I recently read this quote, part of a story about a dying cancer patient:

“Don’t forget that it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day.”

Yes, the world is still a good place.

Difficult Times & Hope

This past month has been the most difficult in my life – and that of my family as well. I’m not going to go into it for the whole Internet, but any well wishes, happy thoughts, prayers, whatever you want to send our way, whether we know about it or not, would certainly be welcome. And, of course, the reason I’m not very active online right now is that I’m focusing on family, work, and other pressing matters.

I have had some measure of comfort from hearing from others that have had pain in their lives. It is good to know I’m not alone, good to have people to talk and share with. And it is good to find some way to have hope in the midst of difficulty and uncertainty.

I sing with the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus, and when listening to one of our recordings recently, was struck by these words in a whole new way. Let music never die in me is a powerful message.

I dreamed a dream, a silent dream,
of a land not far away.
Where no bird sang,
no steeples rang
and teardrops fell like rain.

I dreamed a dream.
No alleluia, not one hosanna,
No song of love, no lullaby.

And no choir sang to change the world.
No pipers played, no dancers twirled.
I dreamed a dream, a silent dream.
Silent.
Silent.

Awake! Awake!
Awake, my soul and sing!
The time for praise has come.
The silence of the night has passed;
a new day has begun.
Let music never die in me!
Forever let my spirit sing!
Wherever emptiness is found,
Let there be joy and glorious sound.

Let music never die in me!
Forever let my spirit sing!

Let all our voices join as one
to praise the giver of the song!

Awake! Awake!
Let music live!

The Awakening, Joseph M. Martin (excerpts)

See a performance here.

Even when hope is dim, or the music is playing only softly, it’s not dead. I hear it when an 85-year-old person in church, comes up to me with tears in her eyes and gives me a big, silent hug. I feel the music when when I can share about things with people, when I sing, when the beautiful Kansas sunset peeks out, when I share a smile or laugh with someone, and when I see the delight and happiness of children.

Let music live!

Summer

It’s been a hot year in Kansas this year. Really hot. Our average high for July was 101F / 38C. It’s also been extremely dry. So we haven’t had too many pleasant opportunities to enjoy a bit of an upcycling project I had with the boys.

When we renovated our old farmhouse, we had two chimneys removed. The bricks were saved in a large pile out back, and we haven’t really touched them in the last 5 years.

I got the idea at some point that it would be nice to have a fire ring on our yard. The boys love campfire-style cooking, and enjoy helping gather kindling and watching the fire grow. I had looked at fire rings in stores, but just couldn’t bring myself to pay $60 or $100 or even more for what was really a piece of round metal. I decided we would find a way to build our own fire ring.

So the idea of chimney bricks seemed perfect. Some of these bricks still have mortar on them, so the result is imperfect, but it is functional. More importantly, the boys helped. They picked out bricks one at a time, set them in the wheelbarrow (or even carried a few themselves, as Jacob insisted on doing sometimes.) Then we’d dump them out on the ground, and I’d make some attempt at making the thing round, while the boys would put them on the pile.

We did this over the course of several evenings, with me filling in on some of it after they lost interest. When we got it done, they of course loved cooking outside. I made sure that we placed it in a place that will be in the shade every summer evening so we’d be comfortable. I made no attempt to mortar it in; this way, it’s easy to move or resize. And it’s safer for the boys than a metal one, since the outer edge never even gets warm to the touch.

Anyhow, it finally got a little cooler last week, so we cooked out there for dinner two days in a row. One day, after eating, the boys came back out to help put out the fire with the hose. After that, Jacob and I went out there to eat dessert. He sat on the grass, and I sat down next to him. He scooted over a bit to be closer to me. Pretty soon, Oliver came running out too, and sat on my lap. The three of us just sat there on the grass, eating our desserts and enjoying the evening. It’s the kind of moment that makes a dad happy.

The other evening, they again helped me put out the fire with a hose. They’d been active that day, so after I finished hosing down the fire ring, I gave them each a small spray with the hose. After a brief flicker of indecision, they both decided this was hilarious. Jacob took off running, yelling “You’ll never catch me!” (And clearly hoping I would.) Oliver copied him, and so I proceeded to chase them around the yard with a hose for quite awhile. There was much laughter from them, and they wound up totally soaked and happy. Another good evening. You never know what will happen outdoors, but so often it is very good.

I introduced my 5-year-old and 2-year-old to startx and xmonad. They’re DELIGHTED!

Two years ago, Jacob (then 3) and I built his first computer together. I installed Debian on it, but never put a GUI on the thing. It’s command-line, and has provided lots of enjoyment off and on over the last couple of years. I’ve written extensively about what our boys like to do, and the delight they have at learning things on the command line.

The looks of shock I get from people when I explain, as if it’s perfectly natural, that my child has been able to log in by himself to a Linux shell since age 3, are amusing and astounding. Especially considering that it is really not that hard. Instead of learning how to run an Xbox, he’s learned how to run bash. I like that.

Lately, Jacob (now 5) hasn’t been spending much time with it. He isn’t really at a stage where he wants to push his limits too far, I think, but yet also gets bored with the familiar. So I thought it was time to introduce a GUI in a limited fashion, perhaps to let him download photos and video from his Vtech toy camera (that takes real low-res photos and videos which can be downloaded over a USB1 link). He’s familiar with the concept, at least somewhat, having seen GUIs on Terah’s computer (Gnome 2) and mine (xfce4 + xmonad).

So last night, Oliver (age 2) and I went down to the basement on a mouse-finding expedition. Sure enough, I had an old PS/2 mouse down there that would work fine. The boys both helped string it through the desk up on our play room, and were tremendously excited to see the red light underneath it when the computer came on. Barely able to contain the excitement, really. A bit like I remember being when I got my first mouse (at a bit of an older age, I suppose.)

I helped him them in as root for the very first time. (Jacob typed “root”, and I typed the password, and provided the explanation for why we were telling the computer we were “root”.) Jacob and Oliver alternated typing bits of some apt-get command lines. Then while we waited for software to download, I had to answer repeated questions of “how soon will the mouse work?” and “what does ‘install’ mean?”

Finally it was there, and I told Jacob to type startx. I intentionally did not install a display manager; more on that later. He pressed Enter, the screen went blank for about 5 seconds, and then X appeared. “Excited” can’t begin to describe how they acted. They took turns playing with the mouse. They loved how the trash can icon (I started with XFCE) showed trash IN the trash can.

But they are just learning the mouse, and there’s a lot about a typical GUI that is unfriendly to someone that isn’t yet proficient with a mouse. The close buttons are disappointingly small, things can be too easily dragged on and off the panel and menus. When I sat down to think about it, the typical GUI design does not present a very good “it always works the same” interface that would be good for a child.

And then it occurred to me: the perfect GUI for a child would be simply xmonad (a tiling window manager that can be controlled almost entirely by keyboard and has no need for mouse movements in most cases.) No desktop environment, no file manager in the root window. Just a window manager in the classic X way. Of course!

So after the boys were in bed, I installed xmonad. I gave Jacob’s account a simple .xsession that starts a terminal and xmonad.

Today, Jacob informed me that he wanted his computer to look “just like yours.” Playing right into my hands, that was! But when he excitedly typed startx, he said it wasn’t just like mine. Uh oh. Turns out he wanted the same wallpaper as my computer uses. Whew. We found it, I figured out that xli(1) loads it in the root window, and so I added a third line to .xsession. More delight unlocked!

Jacob mastered the basics of xmonad really quickly. Alt-Shift-C to close a window. Alt-Shift-Q to quit back to the “big black screen”. Alt-Shift-Enter to get a terminal window.

We launched thunar (the XFCE file manager) and plugged in his camera. He had a good deal of fun looking at photos and videos from it. But then I dropped the true highlight of the day for him: I offered to install Tuxpaint for him. That’s probably his favorite program of all time.

He watched impatiently as apt-get counted down 1m30s for tuxpaint and its libraries. Then we launched it, and he wanted to skip supper so he could keep playing Tuxpaint on “my VERY OWN COMPUTER!”

I’d been debating how to introduce GUIs for a very long time. It has not escaped my attention that children that used Commodores or TRS-80s or DOS knew a lot more about how their computers worked, on average, than those of the same age that use Windows or MacOS. I didn’t want our boys to skip an entire phase of learning how their technology works. I am pleased with this solution; they still run commands to launch things, yet get to play with more than text-based programs.

At bedtime, Jacob asked me, very seriously:

“Dad, how do I start tuxpaint again?”

“First you log in and type startx. Then you can use the mouse.”

Jacob nods, a contemplative look on his face..

“Then,” I continue, “you type tuxpaint in the terminal, and it comes right up.”

Jacob nodded very seriously a second time, as if committing this very important information to long-term memory. Then gave a single excited clap, yelled “Great!”, and dashed off.

26 Hours At The Creek

I’m back from one of the best experiences a father can have – a whole day with two happy boys.

I took Jacob (5) and Oliver (2) camping with me out by our creek. This was the first time we’d camped there, and also the first time I’d taken the boys camping without Terah along. So there were some unknowns, but it worked out great.

When we got out there, I started to get the tents set up. The boys were interested, but pretty soon invented some games. A large nearby tree with plenty of low branches on its trunk became their locomotive, and certain sticks made the “train” go forward or backward, whistle, or ding its bell. This was good for quite some entertainment. Another nearby tree, near the bank of the creek, had some erosion near it. Combined with its roots, this made some natural steps. Jacob named some the “enter steps” and others the “exit steps”, and I sure heard about it if I walked the wrong way on the exit steps.

We then gathered up sticks and the things we needed to build a campfire. We cooked up brats and zucchini. Although it was later than usual for supper, they loved it just the same.

After that, we made smores for dessert – another thing they loved. Then, one of the big highlights: sleeping in tents and sleeping bags. I had showed them the sleeping bags earlier, and they were excited to try them out.

Morning was beautiful – when the sun came out, it was shining right on the heavy dew on the ground, making the grass shine brightly.

It’s not every day that they get to start their morning slowly waking up by a warm fire. They were content to sit for quite awhile while I got things going for breakfast.

It was chilly outside, so I helped them change clothes by the fire where. I then cooked them some scrambled eggs – which, despite the lack of salt and pepper, seemed so much better than normal to the boys – and then we went exploring. I took them to some areas with erosion, which Jacob called “the big holes in the ground.” It’s really quite beautiful in spring, which this cellphone photo completely fails to capture.

The boys loved climbing up and down these areas, some of which were quite tall. They discovered different kinds of rock on the way up and down, and with my help avoided discovering too much of the mud at the bottom.

We hiked back to our camping spot through grass almost as tall as Oliver — much to his delight — and then after warming up by the fire for a bit, went off in the other direction. There is a grove of trees by the creek over there, which — surprise — became another train. Here are the boys explaining how it works.

They helped pack things back up, too. Actually, it took some convincing to get Jacob to not pull up all the stakes for the tent before I was ready for them.

Things didn’t go perfectly, but then, they never do, and that was OK with everyone. Camping is an adventure, and it wouldn’t be an adventure if you knew every detail beforehand.

It is rare in life to be able to think that I have enough time to do anything the boys might want to do. Spend half an hour pretending a tree is a train — sure, no problem.

Today Oliver asked to go camping again, and was a bit disappointed when I didn’t agree to go camping again right this minute, today. Jacob said, “we had an EXCELLENT time” and gave me hugs thinking about it.

I have a lot of happy memories about the creek. We camped at the same spot where I went fishing or camped as a child. There have been family gatherings and even a birthday party out there. The boys and I have enjoyed a hike or a wagon ride to the area, but as I learned, nothing could possibly match the excitement of camping there.

It is wonderful to add another happy memory of a time at the creek. And it’s even better to see another generation of Goerzens discover that there’s a lot of fun to be had down by the creek.

German: Suprisingly Hilarious for a 2-Year-Old

The other night, I was tucking the boys into bed. I occasionally use a few German words with them (I don’t know all that many myself, but hey). They’d been rather bored with it, so I had dropped it for a few months.

I said to Oliver, “Gute Nacht, Oliver. That means good night in German.” Oliver laughed. I said it a few more times. He laughed some more. Jacob peeked down from his top bunk to see what the fun was, and pretty soon was getting into it also.

Apparently I’m quite the comedian, because when I said Auf Wiedersehen, Oliver burst out laughing uncontrollably. Finally he’d say, “Say it again! AGAIN!!” And I would, and he’d laugh and laugh some more.

And then, I happened to say tschüss. Jacob loved that one. He said it over and over, much to Oliver’s delight. Finally I closed the door, and heard the laughter still going on behind me, as Jacob would yell out a mangled German word, and Oliver would fill the room with laughter.

I was a little surprised, but figured it’d end there. Not so much.

The next night, I tucked them into bed like usual. I left their room, and about 10 seconds later, I heard frantic yelling from the boys’ room. I went back in, and poor Oliver was so upset he couldn’t even say what he wanted. I finally figured out he was pleading, “DAD! Say gute Nacht again!” So we went through some German words again, and I left the boys much relieved. Phew.

The next night, I almost repeated my horrid mistake of no German at bedtime, but Jacob stopped me before I left their room. “Dad! You forgot to say tschüss!” So I did, with the boys prompting me on what words they wanted to hear.

Then Jacob started asking me how to say these things in other languages. He was rather disappointed, and I think also didn’t really believe me, when I only knew a few of those phrases in Spanish and French. Though he was surprised that I could come up with them in Greek. Καλησπέρα (Kali̱spéra / good evening) was a hit.

By this point, another day or two later, Jacob says tschüss when I leave. Oliver wishes me “gute Nacht” at breakfast time. We’ll have to work on that one.

So, if you ever walk in the door at our house some morning, don’t be surprised if our 2-year-old wishes you good night, our 5-year-old says goodbye, and they both start laughing.

XMPP for Children

When Jacob was just born, I wondered how I might introduce them to computing. I thought over various things, but that wasn’t really the most pressing thing right then.

I don’t suppose that I could have predicted installing an XMPP IM server (Prosody) for the boys. And I certainly couldn’t have predicted creating accounts named: jacob, oliver, butterfly, bear. Because, as Jacob pointed out to me, if (Jacob’s favorite toy) butterfly is typing with his wings, then he shouldn’t be logged in as Jacob. I admire my 5-year-old’s security consciousness…

Anyhow, as I mentioned yesterday, Jacob and Oliver enjoy “their” computer, which I recently put on the LAN. The firewall does not pass any of its traffic to the Internet, though, with very limited exceptions.

Jacob can read, and is starting to enjoy typing as well. So I thought he would enjoy sending IMs to me. As his computer has no GUI, I needed a text-mode client. Something with an IRC-like interface that could be scripted to open up a window with me directly sounded perfect. Initially I tried irssi’s XMPP plugin, but it proved to be too buggy (wanting to always latch on to a particular resource on the remote end, not having very predictable window behavior, etc.) So I switched to mcabber. With a couple of quick configuration bits to get him automatically logged in, remove superflous windows, and connect him directly to a chat with me, it was set. And well-loved. He sent me a mix of real words and random things he created by replacing letters in “Jacob” or by holding down keys.

In the mcabberrc, besides the obvious setting of username and password, there is:


set log_win_height = 1
set hook-post-connect = source ~/.mcabber/post-connect.rc

The hook is simply:


roster search Dad
roster hide

After awhile, Jacob wanted to switch computers. He wanted to use my laptop, and me use his computer. He refused to switch back. I asked him why. “Because on your computer, my name is red.” I should have known. I set it to bright white on his computer, but I think tomorrow we may need to upgrade him to the color monitor I’ve been saving for just such an occasion… It will be a whole new set of discoveries, I’m sure.

Update: I also tried out freetalk, which looked like it would meet my goals nicely. The problem was it didn’t have a dedicated “everything typed goes to this person” mode. It did have a mode where it put the person’s JID on the command line by default, but excessive use of backspace key by a 5-year-old could wipe that out and leave it in a state where he’d be confused.

Shell Scripts For Preschoolers

It probably comes as no surprise to anybody that Jacob has had a computer since he was 3. Jacob and I built it from spare parts, together.

It may come as something of a surprise that it has no graphical interface, and Jacob uses the command line and loves it — and did even before he could really read.

A few months ago, I wrote about the fun Jacob had with speakers and a microphone, and posted a copy of the cheat sheet he has with his computer. Lately, Jacob has really enjoyed playing with the speech synthesizer — both trying to make it say real words and nonsense words. Sometimes he does that for an hour.

I was asked for a copy of the scripts I wrote. They are really simple. I gave them names that would be easy for a preschooler to remember and spell, even if they conflicted with existing Unix/Linux commands. I put them in /usr/local/bin, which occurs first on the PATH, so it doesn’t matter if they conflict.

First, for speech systhesis, /usr/local/bin/talk:


#!/bin/bash
echo "Press Ctrl-C to stop."
espeak -v en-us -s 150

espeak comes from the espeak package. It seemed to give the most consistenly useful response.

Now, on to the sound-related programs. Here’s /usr/local/bin/ssl, the “sound steam locomotive”. It starts playing a train sound if one isn’t already playing:


#!/bin/bash
pgrep mpg321 > /dev/null || mpg321 -q /usr/local/trainsounds/main.mp3 &
sl "$@"

And then there’s /usr/local/bin/record:


#!/bin/bash
cd $HOME/recordings
echo "Now recording. Press Ctrl-C to stop."
DATE=`date +%Y-%m-%dT%H-%M-%S`
FILENAME="$DATE-$$.wav"
chmod a-w *.wav
exec arecord -c 1 -f S16_LE -c 1 -r 44100 "$FILENAME"

This simply records in a timestamped file. Then, its companion, /usr/local/bin/play. Sorry about the indentation; for whatever reason, it is being destroyed by the blog, but you get the idea.


#!/bin/bash
case "$1" in
train)
mpg321 /usr/local/trainsounds/main.mp3
;;
song)
/usr/bin/play /usr/local/trainsounds/traindreams.flac
;;
*)
cd $HOME/recordings
exec aplay `ls -tr| tail -n 1`
;;
esac

So, Jacob can run just “play”, which will play back his most recent recording. As something of a bonus, the history of recordings is saved for us to listen to later. If he types “play train”, there is the sound of a train passing. And, finally, “play song” plays Always a Train in My Dreams by Steve Gillette (I heard it on the radio once and bought the CD).

Some of these commands kick off sound playing in the background, so here is /usr/local/bin/bequiet:


#!/bin/bash
killall mpg321 &> /dev/null
killall play &> /dev/null
killall aplay &> /dev/null
killall cw &> /dev/null

Rain, A Funeral, and Excitement

Rain

Friday was something of a rare day for February in Kansas. Starting at about 2AM, the wind picked up, blowing so hard that our windows rattled. That part isn’t so rare. Then the cold rain started, dropping almost 2.5″ throughout the day.

As I worked, I had the blinds on the windows open, but they didn’t let in very much light. Still, the wind had calmed down, so the intermittent rain outside was peaceful. Jacob went out to play for a little while, so every so often I saw a warmly-dressed and excited-looking 5-year-old run past my window. A little while after he came in, I told Jacob, “I saw you playing outside.” His response: “Oh good! I got wet!” Which, despite the fact that it was about 50 degrees, seemed to excite him.

After the blustery start, the calm, slow, and peaceful rain was a pleasant thing to see throughout the day.

Funeral

My great aunt Alice Goerzen passed away last Sunday. So today, for the third time in a little over a year, I was at the funeral of a Goerzen relative and neighbor. Alice’s husband, Milt, passed away in late 2010, and it was while I was at his funeral that Jacob got run over by a tractor. That memory certainly came back to me today.

But I think I should set the stage and explain what funerals are like in this small, rural Kansas community.

At the church, while people file in, family and close friends — generally defined as loosely as desired — meet in some other room before the funeral. Memories may be shared, or songs sung, or maybe just a brief meditation or prayer.

Then the man from the funeral home — there’s only one in town — will step in. Ivan Miller owned the business for decades, and although he’s now retired, his replacement seems pretty similar. Kindly, respectful, and pretty much unchanging. This group then files into the church sanctuary to sit up front, while the rest of the congregation is standing and music is played.

We typically sing some hymns, hear memories from the family, a message from a pastor, and then do downstairs for faspa: an light meal with coffee, zwieback, “funeral cheese”, and some relishes and dessert. You can, by the way, go to the local grocery store and find a product labeled “funeral cheese”. It’s a sharp cheddar, sliced thick and cut into pie piece-shaped wedges.

After everyone has picked up their food, microphones are passed around, and anybody that wants to can share memories and stories. These are often hilarious, or touching, and can be more random than anyone could expect.

Today we heard a lot about how Aunt Alice loved her flowers and garden. We even saw a video of her giving a tour of her garden, with Milt’s mower in the background occasionally accidentally causing a distraction (or maybe it wasn’t so accidental; he’d never miss an opportunity to cause some mischief…)

I tend to think of attending funerals around here as a good time. Sadness is inevitable, but there are so many amazing stories that it is hard to leave feeling sad.

Excitement

This afternoon, Jacob found me in the office and as he often does, said, “Dad, I want to do something with you.” Usually I ask him what he’d like to do, but his first instinct is usually to ask for watching train videos on Youtube. So sometimes I make other suggestions. Today we played “hide and seek with radios,” in which the person that is counting is supposed to radio to the other person when they are done. Today was the first time that Jacob came up with the trick of talking into the radio while I was hiding so he could hear where I was. I was sort of proud of him, and he failed to completely hide his smile when I told him I had to turn off my radio or else he’d find me too fast.

Then later, we played with Jacob’s computer, a Linux-based command-line-only machine. I have set up a few shell scripts and aliases for him. Since it doesn’t play videos, he doesn’t use it as much as he does mine, but it is really fun to watch how his interaction with it changes as he gets older.

He can now read amazingly well for a 5-year-old, and is starting to learn how to spell. He loves word games, writing, and typing. I thought I would install an ASCII art program for him. I told Jacob I had some ideas for a new game, and he was irresistibly intrigued. I offered him a choice between figlet and toilet. And, as is probably no surprise to anyone with a 5-year-old, he chose toilet based on its name, Jacob and Oliver both loved typing things and seeing them displayed bigger. I showed Jacob how I could make a freight train by typing ,<@-[]-(*)-@> (that’s the comma-shaped snowplow, engine, boxcar [], tank car (*), and caboose @>). Then toilet drew them big, and though abstract, caused great excitement.

I hooked up one of the speech synthesizers in Debian to a simple shell script named “talk”, which is a huge hit with the boys. They enjoy typing in nonsense and hearing the funny result, or in typing in real words and hearing how the computer says them right (or doesn’t). All told, we had a good hour’s worth of excitement up there.