Family: July 2007 Archives

J. & M. at the Texas Cowboy Reunion paradeAs exciting as it was to see our 10-year-old win the Harry Potter costume contest last Friday night (thanks, Dawn -- we think so, too), we were even more excited and proud about something he accomplished earlier this month.

Right before Independence Day, we drove down to Stamford, Texas, to visit my wife's relatives there -- her dad grew up on a cotton farm northwest of town, and she still has a few aunts and uncles around.

At the same time, Stamford was hosting the Texas Cowboy Reunion, four days of activities including the world's largest amateur rodeo, a grand parade on the 4th of July, nightly western dances, chuckwagon barbecue dinners, and a fiddle contest.

We watched the fiddle contest when we were last there for the TCR, and when we began making plans for this visit, my son decided he wanted to enter. He's only had a year of classical violin training, but his performance piece for last fall was the fiddle tune "Old Joe Clark," and like the rest of the family, he loves western swing music. Once his spring performance was out of the way, he began working up a few more tunes.

IMG_2488We were six hours into the drive to Stamford when we realized that all of us had forgotten to bring his fiddle. We had music and a stand, but no instrument. The boy was heartbroken. The next day, my wife called the contest organizers and someone that her family knew to see about borrowing a fiddle for the contest.

He had been used to playing a half-size, and the size affects your finger positions. Suzanne Walker, who used to teach, had a quarter-size she could lend him, along with a book of fiddle tunes. Ray Clark of Tru-Sound Studios downtown lent him a full-size, painted silver. Neither were exactly what he was used to, so he practiced with both to see which would be the easier adjustment to make. In the end, he felt more comfortable with the full-size. He learned from his great-uncle that for the contest he'd need to play two breakdowns and a waltz. He didn't have a waltz, so in two days he learned "Streets of Laredo" from Mrs. Walker's book. He knew the song from years of listening to Riders in the Sky.

For the next couple of days, he worked in practice time in between the TCR parade, a night at the rodeo, a visit out to the old farm, a look at the artifacts in the Texas Cowboy Museum, games of Chinese checkers and Wahoo, and one delicious home cooked meal after another, each one featuring fresh peaches from the farm. The temperature was in the mid 80s all week, unseasonably cool for Texas in July, and we've never seen the fields so green.

At one point in all the practicing, I told my wife she needed to quit stopping him when he slipped up. It was more important for him to have the confidence to recover and keep going after a mistake.

All hat and no cattleSaturday morning came. It was not a huge field -- only four entrants in the under-18s class. Two were older teens, both excellent fiddlers, and there was another boy about our son's age. There were about 100 people in the audience. Former Congressman Charlie Stenholm was the MC, telling old jokes to break the tension and fill time as each fiddler got ready to play.

J. and K. with Charlie Stenholm at the Texas Cowboy Reunion fiddle contestOur boy was sixth to play: "Bile Them Cabbage Down," "Streets of Laredo," then "Old Joe Clark," which he had relearned with double-stops (playing two strings at once for harmony). He got a bit lost on the first one, but recovered, restarted, and got through it. The waltz was solid, and the final breakdown gave him a strong finish. (You can see his performance on Google Video.) Our son was the only one to play without a rhythm guitarist accompanying him; guess I'm going to have to learn to play.

When the judging was over, our son finished third in his class, behind the two older teens, one of whom won the playoff to be grand champion. The third-place finish was good for a $25 prize. After the contest, all the fiddlers gathered up front for a jam session, playing songs like "Maiden's Prayer" and "Faded Love." Since he doesn't know that many songs yet, the other musicians kindly let him call a couple of tunes: "Cotton Eyed Joe" and "Little Liza Jane." We celebrated with an authentic chuckwagon lunch before setting out for Tulsa.

(By the way, the prize money was donated by the local Wal-Mart, which also covered the entrance fees. Wal-Mart helped us out again later that day: When the van lost a tire tread south of Chickasha, just after 8 p.m., my wife called and asked if they could stay open late and sell us a new tire, as we couldn't drive home on the compact spare I'd installed. They were very nice about it, and we made it home that night, albeit later than planned. Paul Harvey likes to say that if you've got a Wal-Mart in your hometown, you couldn't ask for a better neighbor. Mom-and-pop stores might dispute that, but there's no question that Wal-Mart, along with the good people of Stamford, made our 07/07/07 a lucky day.)

Our son still has a lot to learn about fiddling, but we're proud that he persisted in the face of some setbacks and kept his composure in front of a big audience. It was satisfying, too, that he now has a stronger connection to his roots in Texas cotton country.

I've posted a whole pile of pics of our trip on Flickr, including as many blurry rodeo pictures as a person could want. There are also some shots of our brief browsing stop in Archer City, Texas' version of Hay-on-Wye, home of Larry McMurtry's multi-building Booked-Up bookstore and the movie theater that inspired The Last Picture Show.

Toddler and peachesThere's a separate set (for the historians among you) of photos of documents and artifacts from Stamford's museum, including pages from the 1940 town directory, a 1950 semi-centennial book about the town, a 78 rpm disc of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys performing "New Spanish Two Step," and a scrapbook presentation (a low-tech Powerpoint) that the Chamber of Commerce made in 1923 in their unsuccessful bid to become the site of Texas Tech.

I've also posted some video of the calf scramble at the rodeo. They let all the children 12 and under into the arena, then let loose some calves with ribbons tied to their tails. The kids who manage to grab a ribbon win a prize. My 10-year-old had done it three years ago; this year he was joined by his six-year-old sister. After it was over, I asked them about the experience and got reaction from the toddler, too. For more flavor of the event, here's someone else's video from the wild mare race at the 2006 TCR rodeo -- teams of three cowboys catch, saddle, and ride a wild mare to the other end of the arena and back.

Accio book!

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Harry Potter contest, Midtown Tulsa Barnes & Noble I'm live blogging from the 41st and Yale Barnes and Noble, where about an hour ago my son won first place in the Harry Potter costume contest, entitling him to be one of the first seven in line to buy a book when the clock strikes twelve. He was up against some tough competition. It didn't hurt that he had been Harry Potter for Halloween, so we already had the robes and the glasses, and he and his mom had a pretty good idea of what was involved in dying his hair.

Harry Potter and DumbledoreAll of us were here for the first three hours of the party. My wife took the little ones home after the contest. There are a lot of people here, but not so many that you couldn't move around. I spent most of my time keeping the toddler entertained in his stroller, trying to keep him arms' length from all the books. We looked at a beautiful new book of historic Tulsa photos, including many from downtown's heyday. (There's a picture of a tree-shaded art deco cafe that once stood between 14th and 15th on Boston; wish I could just step into that photo.) The toddler was worried when I put on a set of headphones in the music department, but enjoyed taking all the "Cars" DVDs off the shelf as he made his "b-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-m" car sound.

While we roamed the aisles, the big kids had their picture taken with the advertising board for the book, listened to a classical ensemble play movie themes, watched a magic show, and listened to a bit of the live feed from the B&N on New York's Union Square, where the narrator of the audio books was giving a reading.

J. as Harry PotterWhen the toddler and I grew weary of steering between shelves and people, we strollered down to Reasor's -- I bought him a banana and some cookies and got myself a Coke Zero.

When I told a co-worker how we'd be spending our evening, she told me that she was allergic to hype. Normally, I am, too. But it's fun to be part of a kind of mass event, in this day of hundreds of TV channels and millions of websites.

And as mass events go, this one isn't bad. It marks the end of an excellent series of children's fiction, and there's been a minimum of standing in line.

Of course, it helps when your son is a powerful wizard.

UPDATE: They had the seven winners line up at the registers about 5 minutes before the boxes could be opened. We watched them open the first boxes, and my son got his book right at 12:01. I threw in a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. We paid, left triumphant, and headed to Shades of Brown for something to drink. I read the first couple of chapters to my son there. (We read the first book together, before he zoomed ahead of me and worked through the remaining books in short order.)

As I've mentioned briefly, last month I visited Britain with my son, who was part of the Tulsa Boy Singers' first international tour in many years. The boys performed at Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh, at York Minster, and at St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden, in London ("the Actors' Church"), and they also sang a couple of anthems in Durham Cathedral, near the tomb of English church historian St. Bede. The tour also took us to Stirling and Oxford.

The photos I took of the Tulsa Boy Singers' tour are up on Flickr. I used Flickr's very cool map feature to pin down the locations of each photo as best I could. You can click "Map" on an individual photo page, and it will show you where it was taken.

I also took video of at least one anthem at each performance, and these have been posted at Google Video. I was using the Canon S3 IS to shoot both stills and videos, and it's not the easiest thing to hold still for long periods. Someday, when I find a decent video editing package, I'll edit a slide show of still images over the shaky and jerky parts of the video.

Here's video of two of my favorite anthems -- Thomas Tallis's "O Nata Lux and Richard Farrant's "Lord, for Thy Tender Mercies' Sake" -- in the north transept of York Minster, the largest Gothic church north of the Alps.

TBS is always looking for new singers. If you have a son eight years or older who loves to sing, learn more at You'll find phone and e-mail contact information on the website.

This may look like a souvenir from my recent trip to Britain with my 10-year-old for the Tulsa Boy Singers choir tour, but it's not, although the trip reawakened an interest in it.


This is The London Game, a strategy game based on a map of the London Underground. The object is to be the first to travel to six tourist destinations and return to your starting point at one of London's main railway stations. There are "hazard" cards that either delay you or allow you to delay another player. Each "souvenir" card has a drawing and a description of the point of interest and the name of the nearest Tube station.

I remember playing this game with a friend of mine when we were probably 10 or 11. His family subsequently put it in a garage sale or otherwise disposed of it. I had always thought it would be a fun board game to have.

Three times in the past I've been to the London Transport Museum gift shop in Covent Garden, and three times I've balked at paying the asking price, not to mention wondering if I had room and sufficient spare weight in my luggage for the box. Last month, the museum shop had a special edition in a metal box for the low, low price of 25 pounds sterling -- about $50, and too dear for me. Once back home, I checked eBay and found a copy of the 1972 edition. I was the only bidder and price and shipping combined came to $15.

While my wife and our 10-year-old went to hear Weird Al Yankovic in concert last Friday, and after I put the 18-month-old to bed, the six-year-old and I played the game a couple of times. We opted not to use the station blocking rule and instead concentrated on getting familiar with where everything is on the board and how the basic rules work.

We added a rule that you have to say the name of each station as you pass through it. I figure it'll help the kids learn to pronounce Gloucester, Leicester, and Tottenham correctly and how to interpret a map and plan a route, and we'll all build a mental map of London which will come in handy when we go back as a family someday. There have been a few changes to the Tube map since 1972, but not many to the central London section that makes up the game board.

London Game closeup

We had fun playing it, and we each won a round. I'll have to try the more cut-throat version, where you can block stations to delay your opponents, with the 10-year-old.

A couple of summers ago our family visited my wife's uncle and his family in Little Rock. He raises AKC Registered German Shepherds on a farm north of Little Rock. His dogs have been trained for police and drug work, home and family protection, and as companion animals for the elderly and disabled. We spent time around some of the dogs at their city house and the puppies out at the farm. They were sweet-natured and affectionate animals.

My wife's uncle has just learned that he won't be able to care and train the dogs for a while. His family is looking to sell the puppies they have as quickly as they can. The puppies are around six to seven months' old.

If you are interested in purchasing and could provide a good home for a German Shepherd with these qualities, please contact me by e-mail at blog -at- batesline -dot- com. Please DO NOT use the contact information on the farm's website at this time.

This is how he describes his dogs' heritage and character:

When we bought our breeding stock we required the following:
  1. Temperament. The dog must be gentle and loving to all members of the family especially children.
  2. Courage. If the dog senses that you are in danger it must get between you and that danger and do what is necessary to chase it away and not follow it after it runs away.
  3. Size. We did not want giants, but we wanted large dogs that can do their jobs.
  4. Conformation. We required that all dogs have excellent conformation by a German judge.
  5. Color. We have about all German Shepherd colors except white.

Here's how he describes the training program:

  • All puppies are born in someone's home
  • Puppies are handled daily to imprint a good temperament and trust
  • The dogs are worked with daily to develop courage, love and trust
  • The dogs are developed to be loving family pets and strong protectors

No home protected by one of his dogs has ever been burglarized, and no owner has ever been injured by an intruder or the dog.

If you have a good home for a loyal canine companion, please send me an e-mail ASAP at blog at batesline dot com.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Family category from July 2007.

Family: June 2007 is the previous archive.

Family: November 2007 is the next archive.

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