Sunday, April 6, 2014

Another Quote. . .

A few years ago, I picked up a book on number theory, since it's a field of Mathematics that has occasionally fascinated me, and I was looking for something fun and relaxing to read (because that's just the kind of pathetic nerd I am, reading math books for fun and relaxation).  Anyway, I was reading along, relaxing and enjoying myself, when suddenly, in the middle of the book (An Adventurer's Guide to Number Theory, by Richard Friedberg; page 84, to be exact), a quote jumped off the page at me.  Now, as fun and/or relaxing as a good math book can be, I don't generally read them because they're just so doggone quotable; but whatchagonnado?  See if you don't agree that, even coming from a math book, this is pretty good -

"Every advance may bring a loss.
When people have electric lamps, they may forget how to build a fire.
When they have automobiles, they may forget how to ride a horse.
When they have weapons, they may forget how to make friends,
and when they have money, they may forget how to pray."

Monday, March 3, 2014

I Think It's Working. . . Maybe. . .

In honor of today being my 58th birthday (thus completing my second 29. . .), and Wednesday marking the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, I offer one of my all-time favorite quotes, from George MacDonald:

The business of the Universe
     is to make such a fool of you
          that you will know yourself for one
               and so begin to be wise.

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At least, I'm definitely coming to a deeper understanding of just what a fool I am.  As to the onset of actual wisdom. . . well, that's not for me to say. . .

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

On the Way to Work This Mornin'. . .

I grew up in Up North, Michigan.  And Up North in Michigan is, no doubt about it, UP NORTH fer realz (in fact, as you approach my hometown from the south, there's a sign on the side of the road informing you that you are crossing the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole; a few miles north of that, and you're coming into the town where I grew up; so we were definitely on the 'North Pole' side of things.  Just sayin').  And back when I was a kid Up North, we knew how to throw a winter, lemme tellya.  I've told a few stories in this space about winters Up North (here is one of them) (and here is another), but this isn't going to be one of 'em.  I tell people that, in the 40 years or so that I've lived in or near the city I now (still) call home, we've had maybe half-a-dozen of what we'd have called honest-to-gosh winters back Up North.  And this winter, even with a month or so left to run (or six weeks, if you believe that damned groundhog), qualifies.  Most definitely, this one qualifies. . .

As I left work last night, the forecast was for 1-2 inches of snow overnight.  Which, in the context of winter in Michigan (and perhaps this winter most especially), is not much.  I thought briefly about taking my laptop home, so I could work from home if need be, but then I thought, one or two inches, I'm not gonna have any trouble getting in to work.  So I left it locked up in my office.

This morning when I got up and got in my car, I found that the forecast was a tad optimistic.  By about a factor of 3; 3-6 inches of snow filled my driveway, and for a few seconds, I thought I might not even get out of the driveway, much less 80 miles or so to work.  I got out on the main surface streets, and they were snowy/slushy and a bit slick, but nothing extraordinarily bad.  And by the time I got out onto the freeway, things were OK, if less than fully ideal.  The right-hand lane was two-tracked to bare pavement, and the left lane was snow-covered; I was able to maintain a steady 40 mph without undue anxiety.  As I drove further, the road got a bit clearer, and I was keeping up around 55 mph.  Not the 70 mph posted limit, and certainly not the 80-or-so that traffic usually goes on a clear, dry road, but moving along comfortably.

I had just passed a row of vehicles whose drivers didn't feel as comfortable as I did at 55, and was more-or-less by myself, going easy.  There was a semi about a quarter-mile ahead of me, and a car about a couple hundred yards behind me, and we traveled in that spacing for a few miles, the road, to all appearances, clear, if not quite dry.

We crossed the line into Genesee County (not quite halfway to work), and I saw the semi ahead of me move to the left, as if he was changing lanes to pass a slower vehicle.  I made a mental note, and prepared to do likewise when I came up on the slowpoke.  But then, I saw the cab of the truck in full profile, and a couple seconds later, I was looking full-on at the side of the trailer, as the semi jack-knifed  across the roadway.  Quickly appraising the situation (mentally noting that, 'this is not good'), I began pumping my brakes purposefully-but-gently, and quickly, I was sailing along sideways on black ice.  I managed to fight my car back to a more-or-less straight configuration, then moved onto the shoulder where the accumulated snow would help bring me to a stop, a hundred yards or so from the semi.  The guy behind me was a little slower to grasp the situation, and he sailed past me before bringing his car to a stop just in front of me.  The vehicles further back saw the ice-capades playing out ahead of them, and stopped in an orderly progression.

But we were all, as they say, SOL as far as further travel was concerned.  Our semi friend extended across both lanes of the freeway and both plowed shoulders.  The cab was pointing straight backwards, hard against the center guardrail.  No one was going anywhere for a while.  One guy, a few spots behind me in the line, had a 4-wheel-drive Jeep, and he decided to take to the deep snow beyond the shoulder, but he only made a few yards of progress before he was more irrevocably stuck than he had been.  I don't think I was the only driver in line who snickered from my happier position on the road.

I called my boss and apprised her of my situation, and told her that I would be late arriving, if at all.  I popped in one of my books-on-tape CDs and listened for a while. Then I pulled the book I'm currently reading out of my briefcase and read, looking up from time to time to see what, if anything, was happening.  A fire truck and a couple police cars arrived, and finally, one of the jumbo-size semi-grade tow trucks.  I watched over the course of a couple hours as the tow-operator and semi-driver tried to puzzle through the geometry and physics of the situation.  My feet grew cold, so I turned the car on and off at intervals, to stay warm without using too much fuel.  I observed with mild interest as snow drifts slowly formed on the upwind side of all our cars (and the wind was blowing duly hard), and I noted how the drifts formed in an arc, roughly marking the 'shock wave' from the wind diverting around the shapes of the cars.  A minor crisis arrived in the form of pressure from my bladder; damn morning coffee.  I used the two passenger-side doors of my car as a makeshift 'stall', and my empty coffee thermos made for a suitable, uh, recepticle, and the crisis was averted.  I rinsed the thermos out with a couple loads of snow, but even so, it's going through the dishwasher two or three times tonight.

Finally, around noon (after three hours of sitting, going nowhere), the tow-truck got the semi unwedged, and we all prepared to resume our respective journeys.  A state trooper walked back along the line of vehicles, informing us that Genesee County had no plows out, and no salt trucks, and we should all just get ourselves hunkered down in our homes, and go slow on our way there.  So I called my boss back and told her I'd see her tomorrow.  Then I started my car, pulled back out onto the roadway, and headed home.

-- (*edit 6PM*) --

So, I got home about 1:00 or so, and hung around long enough to bang out the above paragraphs.  Around 2:30, I got a call from Jen, asking if I could pick her up from her job, since one of the kids had her car.  Sure, says I, I'd be happy to.  So I hopped in my car and headed back out into the elements.  As is often the case (especially since we live on a two-block-long, dead-end street, which might just be the last street in Our Town to get plowed), just getting down my own driveway, and up my own street, was the hard part.  Once I got out onto the main thoroughfares, the going got much easier (although, in the aftermath of a 6-inch snowfall, it's a while longer before things are quite ALL the way back to normal).

I pulled up to a red light where the main street I was on passes under a freeway.  As the car rolled to a stop, I leaned back in my seat and exhaled heavily, glad to be done with stressful driving and such, and. . .

BAM!  I get hit in the ass by a lady driving an SUV.  Her stopping distance was, um, a trifle longer than it would normally be, and she was a tad slow to recognize that fact, thus causing an attempted collocation with my little car.

(*sigh*)

Another hour while we wait for the police to show up and collect the information.  And I am wondering how it is that I've now been rear-ended in each of the last two Februarys (jeez, I never even wrote about the one last year; must've been one of those 'Real Life' things that took me out of circulation for a while.  Got a whole new/used car out of that one).  The comfort one draws from the fact that neither of them was my fault is surprisingly small. . .

The actual damage to my car was pretty minimal, really - a cracked rear trim panel (which, for such a small car as mine, is an impressively large hunk of plastic), and that's about it.  The trunk opens and closes normally.  As I sit here, I'm debating whether to even fix it, or just cover the cracked part with ductape and save the deductible.

So, how was your Wednesday?

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And, all prior ambivalence aside, three weeks ago, we welcomed our new grandson, 6F's little guy, into the world.  Cute as a bug, he is, and just like that, he's won his way into our hearts.

Lord, have mercy, and bless him, and his parents, with a good life.  Together.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Joy, Heartbreak and DNA

Yesterday was Epiphany, marking the end (at least in a liturgical sense) of the Christmas season, and the return of 'Real Life' after the time of celebration and feasting.  And oh, yes. . . Real Life is most definitely upon us. . .

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I've written here, and in my previous blog, about my grandchild(ren), 1F's 'birth-daughter' (just recently turned 8 years old) and her adoptive siblings.  And of how God, true to His Word, has indeed 'worked everything out for the good'.

You have probably also noticed that, since roughly a year ago or so, the frequency of my posts here has become considerably less.  There are a variety of reasons for that, mainly subsumed under the heading of 'Real Life Hath Its Demands'.

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And so it came to pass, late last spring, that one such Demand made itself known.  6F took Jen aside and told her that she, 6F, just barely turned 18, and not yet, at the time, graduated from high school, was pregnant.

(*sigh*)

You want to think that the younger kids, especially the girls, were paying attention when 1F was going through her own pregnancy.  But. . . perhaps not.  I don't know what it's like for women, exactly, but I know that most guys (and young guys most especially), faced with the immediate availability of sex, aren't so clear-headed as to say, "Wait. . . you could get pregnant. . ." or, "But we aren't married yet. . ."  Maybe in my grandmother's day, but not just lately.  (And perhaps the size of my own family will attest to my own uh, shortcomings as pertaining to self-control. . .)  And, even so, the generation of a new human life loses none of its sacred wonder for the circumstances being, shall we say, somewhat sub-optimal.

6F's boyfriend is, on the whole, a solid kid, responsible, hard-working, etc. (by which I mean he's diligent, frugal and focused; the question of keeping wicks dry is a separate matter).  We have thought that, if it should happen that way, we wouldn't have any serious objections to the two of them marrying.  In, oh, say, five years, when they're both more, uh, grown up than they are now, and clearer on the distinction between being married and 'going steady' (though I doubt that anyone calls it that anymore).  But this puts a whole new twist on timetables and suchlike, and adds pressure to the marriage (and the family) that they hope to form together.

We will see what we will see, of course, but Jen and I are mainly of the mind that, if the two of them can form a stable, loving marriage, that would be best all around, for all three of the principals.  So we're basically of the mind that we will do all that we can to help the two of them form such a marriage, if they can.  If. . .

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So, our second grandchild (at least in biological terms) is on his way.

We had a couple months to digest 6F's news before 3M came to us with the news that his girlfriend was also pregnant.  Again, wonderful - another new human life is arising from our gene pool.  But again - carts and horses, and all that. . .

3M and his girlfriend have been together for nearly two years, and we had frankly thought that we'd be hearing wedding bells before too awfully much longer.  3M has been doing well on his job, and getting himself 'established' to the point that being a husband and father is not a crazy idea.  The two of them want to get married, and almost certainly will.  But their relationship has had some, uh, volatile tendencies in the time they've been together, and I worry just the least bit that this will put pressure on them to marry, possibly over their own nagging doubts.

But, you know, as with 6F, we view our role as helping them get to the best possible place together that they can, both for their sake and their unborn child's. . .

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So, two grandchildren - our second and third - on the way, without any of our kids being married.  But, you know, we could console ourselves to a considerable degree that both couples were on their way to marrying, even if (marriage-prep timetables being what they are in our Catholic diocese) the marriages won't happen until some time after the birth of the child.  I'm not terribly concerned with appearances, or 'family honor', or anything like that; all I want is what's best for my own children, and their putative spouses, and the children that they've made together.

And then, a few weeks ago, 2F came to us with the news that she, too, was 'in the family way' (well, except for, you know, the whole 'family' bit).  Which came to us, how shall I say? - completely out of left field, since 2F hasn't had a boyfriend, that we know of.  Nonetheless, there it was.  After a week or two had passed, and we'd had time to digest this latest bit of generational news, Jen asked 2F who the father was; she said she didn't know.  And that's about all I'm going to say about that. . .

As you might imagine (or, you might not, I suppose), it's been a bit more challenging to find the silver linings to 2F's pregnancy, once you get past, "How wonderful - a new human life has come into being!"  But, as they say, it is what it is. . .

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It is an exceedingly fine line that we find ourselves walking, between, "we love you and we support you, and we're here for you," and, "this isn't how we raised you to behave; we're really not 'just-OK-with-it'."  There is more than a trivial likelihood that any or all of my children, and their respective children, will have their lives go less well in the long run for being pregnant out-of-wedlock now.  I have no desire to engage in an 'I-told-you-so-fest', either now or in the future.  But I worry.

And, honestly, it's hard for me not to take it, on some deep, existential level, as an indictment of me as their father.  "Train up a child in the way he should go," (Proverbs 22:6) and all that.  And I'm well-aware of the correlation between young women getting pregnant out-of-wedlock, and their poor relationships with their own fathers.  Not a happy thought for me, as I contemplate my own Judgment Day.

To say nothing of the fact that we still have two young sons not-yet-fully formed, ages 15 and 11, for whom this has become the centerpiece of our family's life these days.  How must our admonitions to chastity and moral faithfulness look to them, when their own beloved elder siblings have tacitly demonstrated that Mom-and-Dad's moral teachings are not to be taken seriously?

So, I suppose we could use your prayers.  We are genuinely happy, and just as genuinely perplexed.  Walking such fine lines can be exhausting.  And the fact that such a key component of our parental message to our kids has manifestly gone unheeded, if not outright ignored, is heartbreaking.  But then we knew that. . .

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Roses Are Green!

Final Score of the 2014 Rose Bowl:

Michigan State      24
Stanford               20

Once again, the Spartan defense just progressively choked the life out of an opposing offense, becoming more impenetrable as the game wore on.  The offense made more mistakes (and more bizarre ones) than we've been used to (what were you thinking on that screen pass for the pick-six, Connor Cook?), but on the whole, they imposed their will on the Stanford 'D' more than the other way around.

I won't bore you with a recap of what I posted a couple weeks back; suffice it to say that my Spartans have earned their way back into consideration as one of the top football programs in the land.  As presently constituted, we aren't what we've been since the late 60s - an average program, occasionally good, which could produce wonderful moments, but stumble at least as often, and never rise to the level of 'elite'.  No, this is a damn good team, right now, and the wonderful moments are more the norm than the exception.  And I must say, we're loving it. . .

(I am recalling a conversation I had a couple years ago with some friends of mine from our sister school an hour down the road - Big Sister, if they insist - in which they all asserted that, what with Big Blue hiring a new coach, we Spartans would soon be relegated once more to our rightful position looking up at them, sighing wistfully, and wishing we could be like them.  At the time, I said, God bless coach Hoke and all, but I didn't think that Coach D and the Spartans were planning on going anywhere, and maybe they should get used to the idea of us being better than they'd like us to be.  It's fun to be proven right. . .)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Incarnation

"He became what we are, that we might become what He is."

           - St. Athanasius (4th cent.)

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"For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness, but one who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin."

          - The Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 15

"Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect."

          - The Gospel According to St. Matthew, chapter 5, verse 48

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ice-pocalypse!

We had an ice storm in these parts over the past weekend.  It left, as ice storms will, a coating of ice (about 1/4-inch thick) on everything that wasn't sheltered from the falling freezing droplets.  Most especially the trees, which produces a starkly beautiful effect once the storm has passed, and the sun returns, its rays creating a delightful aura of refracted light from the icy coating on the branches.  Simply beautiful.

But of course, that icy coating is not weightless, and the subsidiary effect of coating tree branches in ice is that a non-trivial number of those branches will break under the stress of the excess weight.  And some of those branches will take power/phone lines with them as they fall.  The local news reports say that 30,000 residents of the metro area (which comprises about a quarter-million souls altogether) were without power as of Sunday afternoon.

We, thankfully, did not lose power, but several of our friends, and even neighbors within just a couple blocks of us, did (and I suppose I don't really need to say that the last few days before Christmas is a particularly nasty time to be losing power; to say nothing of the cold snap that blew in after the ice had done its business).  And so it came to pass that, yesterday afternoon, Jen's mom and her husband came knocking on our door, along with an armload of cell phones and iPads needing to be charged.  Of course, we were happy to have them visit us, and use our intact power to re-establish their ability to communicate with the outside world.  And just to thaw out for a few hours, since the loss of power also rendered their furnace non-functional, and the indoor temperature of their house had dropped to around 50F.

After their phones and devices were all duly recharged, they bid us adieu and returned home, and within minutes, our phone rang again.  This time, it was our close friends, the husband of whom was my Best Man, that large fractional century in the past.  They were wondering if they could come and hang with us for a few hours, recharge their own devices, and possibly warm their own toes to a more comfortable thermal level.  When they offered to bring beer. . . well, how could we refuse?  They came, and we enjoyed an evening of unplanned, relaxed fellowship (over beer, wine, and gin-and-tonics by the time the night was done).  The whole day turned into one of hidden blessings in the wake of physical hardship, and we were blessed to be able to provide a bit of comfort to our friends in their time of trial, and it was a blessing for us, just to spend some time with them, enjoying their company, that we hadn't remotely planned on.

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It reminds me of a time, maybe 15 years or so ago, that we lost power for a day-and-a-half, back in our previous house, when a heavy, wet snow fell just before Halloween, before many of the leaves had fallen from the trees.  The first night without power was a cool adventure, as we scurried around looking for candles (and wishing that we'd bought those camping lanterns that we'd considered), and being thankful that we hadn't tossed our old cord-style phone when we bought the cordless.  The water heater worked, even if the furnace didn't, and so we could cycle everyone through the shower every few hours (and Jen and I even got to enjoy the old hippie adage about showering with a friend) (or, you know, in our case, your spouse).  Pulling fun out of difficulty, making lemonade out of our lemons, and all that.

When we got to the second night, the sheen of fun was starting to wear thin, and we were most definitely ready for our adventure to be over.  Even so, we went to bed still without power (and I freely admit that Jen and I had it better than the kids did, though we wouldn't have minded a bit if they had wanted to bunk in together to share body heat).  Sometime around midnight, the lights, whose switches we had forgotten to turn off, came abruptly, and we heard the clunky sound of our furnace coming back to life.  After a brief round of rejoicing, we went through the house, turning off lights and blowing out candles, and went back to bed, happy to return to the warm and comfortable status quo.

But that was late October; and it was only 36 hours.  The inside temperature of our house may have fallen below 60F, but it was comparatively short-lived.  Some of our friends and neighbors are going into their fourth night of darkness and cold, and the weather forecast is colder, with overnight lows around 10-12F.  People are talking about putting antifreeze in toilets and drains, and faucets are dripping all over town, to keep pipes from freezing.  This is hardship of a deeper order than we ever faced.  And humbling, to realize that the Universe has the last word, no matter how our technology manages to buffer us from its harsher edges. . . most of the time. . .