Folding Tents, Leaving Town

On 14 January 2017 the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it would fold its tents for the last time and go out of business. We’ve taken our children to the Ringling Brothers circus only once that I can recall. We’ve also taken our children and grandchildren to the Big Apple Circus, which is also in bankruptcy and selling off its assets.

There are only a few degrees of separation between myself and both circuses. We have a family member on Jody’s side who is related by marriage to a dancer who has performed with both the Ringling Brothers and Big Apple circuses. Her husband, a drummer, has also performed with both. Mark Heter, who taught me to play the euphonium, played tuba for Ringling Brothers in the days when a live band accompanied the performances with tunes such as Julius Fučík’s “Entry of the Gladiators” and Mikhail Mikhailovich Ippolitov-Ivanov’s “Procession of the Sardar.” Before that he played with smaller tent circuses that he referred as “mud shows.”

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I don’t have any great affection or disdain for the circus. The exploitation of animals is regrettable, especially since the species exploited by circuses—elephants and tigers in particular—also face extinction in the wild because of widespread poaching. But watching the circus is an opportunity to learn that even the most fearsome threats can be tamed, to admire the skill and athleticism of the acrobats and other performers, or to laugh at ourselves as we see ourselves reflected in the behavior of the clowns.

There’s another lesson to be learned from the role that circuses and other forms of entertainment have in our lives. Although modern circuses are not used to placate a discontented populace, how timely is the concept of “bread and circuses”? It also puts me in mind of Neil Postman’s excellent Amusing Ourselves to Death:

“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Or Business

Or we argue with tweets and Facebook posts.

As the administration of Barack Obama was also folding its tents, the New York Times published an article on his reading habits during his years in the White House. The comments accompanying the on-line article reflect a wide range of views. No doubt any group of people who happen to read this post will also have a wide range of views on the subject, and that’s cool. I believe with President Obama that one purpose for reading, and reading broadly, is to enable us to gain new and valuable perspectives on our lives, on the lives of those around us, and on the events of the day. I would hope that the days to come will find us looking to literature that will help us gain those perspectives, and not relying on the bread and circuses of our day.

Thanks for stopping by!

Grandma Has a Podcast: Reading to Grandchildren From a Distance

One of the pleasures of being a grandparent is reading with your grandchildren. All of Andy’s and Betsy’s grandparents read to them at one time or another when Andy and Betsy were children. We have been reading to Caleb and Sadie at every opportunity since they were infants. I admit to being a bit lax in that department with Ellie Rose; I spend more of my time with her taking photographs instead of reading to her.


In Proust and the Squid Maryanne Wolf observes, “As soon as an infant can sit on a caregiver’s lap, the child can learn to associate the act of reading with a sense of being loved.”


What happens when your grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, live at a distance? How can you read to them on a regular basis if you see them only a few times a year, or even less frequently?

When Caleb and Sadie were still babies we discovered that we could record MP3 files to send to them. MP3 is a widely used audio file format that is used to distribute music, podcasts, audiobooks, and just about any other audio content. I had the use of a Macbook Pro laptop computer and had software installed on it called Garage Band. With Garage Band we could record and edit a story and produce an MP3 file that could be played on any MP3 player. We chose to copy those MP3s onto CDs to go along with the books that we purchased for them, although in hindsight this seems wasteful.

grandma_podcast_02
What’s cooler than a Grandma who can knit and edit audio files?

Caleb and Sadie outgrew their need for stories on CD, or so we thought. On a recent visit they reported that they still listen to their CDs of Grandma Jody reading Wacky Wednesday, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. They, in turn, have read Jan Brett’s beautifully illustrated “The Night Before Christmas” and The Gingerbread Baby for their cousin Ellie.

How Do I Do That?

What do you need to record MP3 files to send to your loved ones? You will need a smartphone, tablet, or computer with audio input and output, and some sort of recording software or app.

Smartphone, Tablet, or Computer

  • A tablet or smartphone provides the easiest solution. iPads, iPhones, and Android devices have built-in microphones and speakers, and also have a 3.5-mm jack that can be used to connect an external microphone and speakers/headset/earbuds.
  • A computer will offer more options for editing and for copying the resulting files to flash drives or other media. More about that in a bit.
  • Whether you use a smartphone, tablet, or computer, consider purchasing an external microphone. It does not have to be an expensive condenser mic. A $20.00 headset with earbuds and a microphone will serve well. The built-in microphone in your digital device will pick up ambient noise as well as your voice. An external microphone will help reduce ambient noise.

Which Recording App or Software?

A quick search for Android or iOS recording apps will return numerous choices, including many free apps. I do not have any experience with any so I can’t make any recommendations. I have used both GarageBand and Audacity. Both are available for Windows and Mac. Both have recording and editing capabilities. What do they let you do that you can’t do with a simple recording app?

  • Edit out sounds such as turning of pages.
  • Record and insert replacement pages if you make a mistake in reading.
  • Add sound effects and transition sounds. We record a transition sound that fits in with the story. When we recorded Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” we recorded a short clip of sleigh bells to signal the page turns.
  • Add music to the beginning or end. At the end of Wacky Wednesday we added Lionel Hampton’s recording of “Crazy Rhythm.”

I’ve Got an MP3 Recording. Now What?

If you read a story such as Green Eggs and Ham and add transition sounds the resulting MP3 file will be several megabytes in size. Adding a piece of music may double the size or more. That file may be too big to email. You can copy it to a flash drive (thumb drive) and mail it. You can upload it to a cloud-based file service such as Google Drive, iCloud, or DropBox, then send a link to the file via email. iTunes also offers a service for private file transfer and storage. YouTube might be a good option for you too.

Do You Have a Suggestion or a Tool That You Use?

Feel free to comment if you have a tool or technique that works particularly well for you. Thanks as always for stopping by!

Childhood, Curiosity, and Crows

This past weekend our granddaughter E__ and her Mom came for a visit. Yes, it is pretty shameless to exploit an adorable infant to draw readers to this blog.

Baby girl
E__ at five months.

We had planned on Saturday to take her for a walk and introduce her to the local park and library. The weather proved contrary, so we stayed in.  When E__ took a nap, Mom and Grandma left briefly to run errands, thinking that the nap would last until they returned. Within minutes she was awake and calling out, although not crying.

I can’t say that I was displeased to have a few minutes alone with her. She is good company and rewards attention with good cheer. At that moment she preferred being up and wandering about, and I was happy to oblige. We found ourselves looking out at the rain through the sliding glass doors.

As we stood there, E__ looked back and forth at the houses and trees surrounding our backyard. I hoped for a rabbit sighting but the rabbit did not oblige. Soon a crow passed over the yard and it caught E__’s attention. She followed the bird until it flew out of sight.

When you are five months old everything is new, and the objects that older children and adults find commonplace can be fascinating to you. We see and hear crows by the dozens every day, and aside from learning recently that crows will sometimes bring gifts to people who feed them,  they hold little fascination for us. That may be short sighted. I would wish for E__ that she would always be fascinated by the world around her, especially the natural world.

As it happens, the sermon at Grace Presbyterian Church this past Sunday was about children. The faith of a child—eager, imaginative, and uncomplicated—is a model to which people at all stages of life can aspire. It was not an accident that I was struck with a small sense of joy and wonder when I heard a nuthatch, saw a sharp-shinned hawk, and saw and heard killdeer on a brief walk to another nearby park today.

Spring arrives this Friday, 20th March 2015. The weather for the coming weekend promises to be suitable for spending time outdoors. I hope you get at least a few minutes to watch the crows, see whose crocuses and daffodils have emerged, or look for Venus, Mars, or even Uranus in the evening sky.

Thanks as always for stopping by.