Tuesday, April 19, 2016

An Old-Fashioned Blog List

In honor of my upcoming 10-year blogging anniversary (a month from now), I thought I'd go all 'Blast From the Past' and post one of those checklists that were common as dirt back in the early days of my blogger-hood.  I'm borrowing this one from my blog-friend Skip, who posted it a couple months ago, though I'm pretty sure he borrowed it from someone else.  It came to him as a 'Bucket List', and some of the items on it are indeed bucket-worthy; others, not so much.  I'm just gonna call it

Have You Ever. . .

(X) Shot a gun
( ) Been Tased – This is supposed to be a Bucket List item??
( ) Been Arrested
( ) Gone on a blind date
(X) Skipped school
( ) Watched someone die – I was with my dad within an hour of his death, but he slipped away when I wasn’t there
(X) Visited Canada
( ) Visited Hawaii
( ) Visited Cuba
( ) Visited Europe
( ) Visited South America
( ) Visited Las Vegas
( ) Visited Central America
( ) Visited Asia
( ) Visited Africa
(X) Visited Florida
(X) Visited Mexico
( ) Seen the Grand Canyon in person – does from an airplane count?
( ) Flown in a helicopter
( ) Drag raced your car - if you knew the cars I've owned, you'd understand. . .
(X) Served on a jury – more of ‘em than I wish I had. . .
(X) Been lost – but not very, and not for long. . .
(X) Traveled to the opposite side of the country – I'm tempted to ask, 'opposite in what sense, exactly?' . . .
( ) Visited Washington, DC
(X) Swam in the Ocean – Both the Atlantic and the Pacific; and all five Great Lakes!
(X) Cried yourself to sleep
(X) Played cops and robbers
(X) Played cowboys and Indians
( ) Recently colored with crayons – depends what you mean by ‘recently’, I suppose. . .
(X) Sang karaoke
(X) Sang a solo or duet
(X) Paid for a meal with coins only – does anyone remember those 'vend-o-matic' places from back in the '60s?
(X) Made prank phone calls
(X) Laughed until some beverage came out of your nose
(X) Caught a snowflake on your tongue
(X) Been a parent – Still am, actually. . .
(X) Had a dog
(X) Had a cat - well, sorta; it was the family's cat. . .
(X) Been skinny-dipping - Heh; yup. . .
(X) Been fishing
(X) Been boating
( ) Been downhill skiing
(X) Been water skiing – not sure any of those who saw me would actually call what I did 'water skiing' but I did get up on the skis for a few seconds; maybe even a whole minute. . .
(X) Been camping in a trailer/RV
(X) Been camping in a tent
(X) Driven a motorcycle
( ) Been bungee-jumping (ripcord jumping) rappelling - does falling while rock climbing count?
(X) Gone to a drive-in movie
( ) Done something that could have killed you – unless commuting 80mi in a blizzard counts. . .
(X) Done something that you will regret for the rest of your life – Regrets, I’ve had a few. . . 
( ) Rode an elephant
( ) Rode a camel
( ) Eaten just cookies or cake or ice cream for dinner
(X) Drank your dinner
(X) Been on TV
( ) Stolen any traffic signs – thought about it once, but. . . no
(X) Been in a car accident
( ) Been in the Hospital or ER in past 24 months - not  in the past 24 months
(X) Donated blood
( ) Gotten a (speeding) or any other type of ticket in the past 12 months not  in the past 12 months
( ) Gotten a piercing
( ) Gotten a Tattoo
(X) Driven a manual transmission vehicle – I was in my 50s before I even owned an automatic. . .
( ) Ever owned your dream car – Not sure what my dream car would be, but whatever it is, I’m pretty sure I’ve never owned one. . .
(X) Been Married – And most blissfully so  ;)
( ) Been divorced
(X) Fell in love
( ) Fell out of love
(X) Paid for a stranger's meal
(X) Driven over 100 mph
( ) Been scuba diving
( ) Written a published book/story/poetry – I’ve had (non-fiction) articles published, but no stories or poetry. . .
( ) Eaten snails – They need an entry here for caviar. . .
( ) Eaten Haggis
(X) Taught a class

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Madness. . . Madness. . .

Oh, we had such high hopes this year. . .  There was no over-archingly dominant team this year, and my Spartans had been on quite a roll, winning 13 of their last 14 games heading into the NCAA tournament, winning the Big Ten conference tournament, and grinding out tough wins against good teams in the final two games.  So we were eagerly looking forward to the NCAAs.  Honestly, this looked like our best chance in years to win the championship.  Unlike most of Coach Izzo's previous teams, it would have been disappointing not to make at least the Final Four.  This was Coach Izzo's best chance in years to win his second championship, and the stars seemed to be aligning perfectly.

We simply had no mental framework for losing in the first round.  I still can't quite believe we did.  It was all set up so perfectly for us.  Oh, I was a little concerned about the possibility of meeting Virginia in the Regional Final, especially since we'd eliminated them from the last two NCAAs, and they would certainly be extra-motivated to play us the third year in a row.  And I wanted no part of the possibility of seeing Purdue for a third time this season, since we'd split two grinding, gruelling games during the season.  But I never imagined we'd lose in the first round. . .

But we did lose.  In the first round.  Hats off to Middle Tennessee.  They played a tough, gritty, fearless game against us, and they simply couldn't miss, it seemed.  They smacked us in the face right from the opening tip, running out to a 15-2 lead in the first five minutes of the game, and forcing us to play catch-up the whole game.  We slowly clawed our way back into the game; twice, late in the game, we pulled within a single point, but each time, Middle Tennessee made the big plays, hit the key shots, made the clutch steals, and we made the crucial, excruciating turnovers.  And when the final horn sounded, we had lost the game.

To put the game into context - this is the 32nd year of the 64-team format for the tournament.  That means there have now been 128 games between 2-seeds and 15-seeds (and there were a lot of us who thought we 'should have' been a 1-seed; you'd be very kind not to rub that in our faces).  The 15-seeds have now won eight of those 128 games.  This was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.  But I have no basis for complaining; it was just our turn in the barrel, I guess.  If it wasn't my Spartans on the losing end, I'd smile, and shake my head, and mutter to myself about how crazy and unpredictable the tournament is, and this is why they call it March Madness, and so forth.  But wow. . . when it's our turn, it just stings.  Or makes you numb.  Or both at the same time.

If I step back, it almost looks like we got caught in some crazy weird vortex of fate (I don't really believe in the whole 'vortex of fate' thing, but, you know. . .).  Of the 32 winners of first-round games this year, ten of them - almost a third - are double-digit seeds:  two 10-seeds, three 11s, two 12s, a 13, a 14 and a 15.  I don't ever recall anything remotely close to such a massively crazy convergence of upsets in the same tournament.  And however it happened, my Spartans got caught in it.

(*sigh*)

Maybe next year. . .

To quote from The Bridge on the River Kwai:  "Madness. . .  Madness. . ."

-------------------------

But hey, at least our women won. . .  ;)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Long-Stemmed WHAT?

This is a re-post from many years ago (seven, to be precise), on my old blog, which I thought you all might enjoy. . .

-------------------------

Jenn and I have never been particularly big on Valentine’s Day. We’ve tended to view it as pretty much an over-hyped ‘Hallmark holiday’, designed to sell candy and greeting cards. And we’ve figured that really, it’s much better if we spend 365 days a year finding ways to express our love and commitment to each other, than it is to ride in on a white horse every February 14th to say what, honestly, we should be saying (albeit, perhaps not in quite such extravagant form) all the time.

But, maybe that’s just us.

I did get in trouble once over Valentine’s Day, though. My birth-mother, as it turns out, is a HUGE fan of Valentine’s Day. And so, when the first V-Day after our reunion rolled around, and I gave it my typical blasé non-observance, she was pretty upset with me, and told me so. I mean, how hard would it have been for me to send her a card, or some candy hearts with cheesy ‘romantic’ messages stamped in them, expressing the true depth of my feelings for her, right?

So, I didn’t make that mistake again. The following year, I was in the card shop a month ahead, searching for the perfect V-Day card. And I found it. On the front, it had an old photo of a gnarly, scowling old gentleman, standing behind a chair on the lawn. The caption read, “Here’s your damn Valentine”, and inside it said, “Now sit down and shut up.” Jenn wouldn’t let me send it to my mother. But I still have it in my files, to this day (I swear I still have it; I was gonna scan it for y'all, but I couldn't immediately lay hands on it).

-------------------------

We have occasionally had a bit of fun with V-Day observances, though. Many years ago, when we were married only a few years, I was in my office, working, on Valentine’s Day, when I got paged to the receptionist’s desk by the front door, so everybody in the office could hear it. When I got there, there was a long white box sitting on the desk – the kind that long-stemmed roses often come in. “Your wife was just here,” said the receptionist. “She said she couldn’t stay, but she left this for you.”

Curious. . . Jenn is definitely not the sentimental sort. She used to pooh-pooh it when I brought her flowers, but over the years she's grown more appreciative of the thought, and the effort (and the flowers are nice, after all). Anyway, getting roses for me would be way out-of-character for her.

I picked up the box. It was heavy. WAY too heavy for flowers. What the heck? So I set the box back on the desk, and opened it, to see what in the world it could possibly contain, that was so heavy.

And I saw six cans of beer, laid end-to-end. A linear six-pack.

Sometimes, you know, there are just no words. . .

I married a great, great woman. . .

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Divided By a Common Language. . .

OK, this is a story which I tell with some frequency, on the general theme of the sometimes-humorous (or is it humourous?) things that happen when British English-speakers try to communicate with American English-speakers (and vice-versa). . .  (I could also refer you to my reply-comment to the Brighton Pensioner in the comment-space attached to this post). . .

-------------------------

A business-woman I know was travelling to London on business.  She was met at the airport by a gentleman who worked for the company on which she was to call the following day.  Said gentleman drove her from the airport to her hotel, and then, by way of making arrangements to pick her up in the morning and convey her to the office at which meetings were to take place, he asked her, "Shall I knock you up about eight, then?"

Absolutely true story. . .

Friday, January 22, 2016

It's Still Personal. . .

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision on Roe v. Wade, so I'm giving you, one more time, a (lightly edited) re-post of my 'Abortion' post.  It's one of my better items, if I may say so myself; perhaps even the best I've ever done. Whether or not it was my best, though (by whatever standard such a question might be decided), the topic resonates with me at a deeply personal level. . .

-------------------------

Sometime when I was in college, the realization dawned on me that, as an adoptee, I had been somebody’s ‘unwanted pregnancy’ once upon a time. And in the fullness of time, especially once Jenn and I married and began having children together, that became one of my strongest motivations to search for my birth-mother – I wanted to thank the woman who, though I had never met her, had carried me in her womb for nine months, and seen me through to the beginnings of my life in this world. (And just as an aside, for me as an adoptee, even such a basic concept as that I'd been carried in someone's womb once-upon-a-time could be disconcertingly abstract).

Along with that realization, I came to understand that, all things considered, I was probably fortunate to have been born before 1973 and Roe v. Wade. I had never particularly staked out a firmly-held position on abortion (My pre-voting-age self was probably mostly ‘pro-choice’, without having given it much thought), but once I understood that, had I been conceived in another time, I would have been a pretty likely candidate for abortion (white college women abort roughly 98% of their ‘unwanted pregnancies’), the question took on an entirely different, and personal, aspect.

-------------------------

I recall a conversation I had with my birth-mother some time after our reunion in 1989. She was talking about her life as a pregnant-and-unmarried woman in the 1950s, and how difficult it had been for her, and she said something like, “I just wish I’d had the choices that women have today.”

I nodded sympathetically. . . until the penny fell all the way to the bottom.  Ummmmm. . . you understand, right, that we're talking about ME here? I mean, we’ve had a really, REALLY happy reunion, and both of us are glad for the opportunity to know each other, and our respective families. If you had exercised the ‘choice’ you’re alluding to, none of that would be even a remote possibility. You might still wonder who I’d been, but without any possibility of ever knowing. . .

She understood. Not that she was wishing that she’d aborted me; only that she’d felt so trapped when she was pregnant, and wished that she’d had anything at all she could have done about that. Now, I could understand how trapped she felt. Frederica Mathewes-Green has written and spoken insightfully about women who “want an abortion the way an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg” (and I would highly recommend her book which is the source of that quote; it's an utterly unique book, just for her refusal to take part in the standard shouting matches.).

And I get that. I have the utmost compassion for women who are pregnant when it is nigh unto catastrophic for them to be so. All three of my daughters have been there, and not so very long ago. And my heart ached for each of them, wishing there was something, anything, that I could do to make it easier for them. . .

-------------------------

But, back in 1955-56, that was ME in my birth-mother’s belly. No mere clump of cells, or a faceless ‘fetus’ (honestly, as we sit here, you and I and every other human being are living, breathing clumps of cells; but of course, we're much more than that, and so we were in our mothers' wombs, as well) – it was me, with my own genetic code, distinct from my birth-mother's (or my birth-father's). And if my birth-mother had had an abortion, it was me who would’ve died.

And the ripples go out from there. My adoptive parents might’ve adopted someone else; who can say? But they wouldn’t have adopted me. My classmates and friends and Little-League teammates could scarcely be said to have missed me – how do you miss someone who, as far as you know, never even existed? – but something of the life we shared together would never have happened. Jenn would most likely have married someone else (I mean, she’s an amazing woman; she'd have had guys standing in line for her); but she wouldn’t have married me (and who can say how that might have gone for her?). And our children would never have come to be – her children, if she had any, would be someone else entirely (I've occasionally gotten a chuckle from the thought that I'm the personification of the 'population-control' movement's worst nightmare - an 'unwanted pregnancy' that turned into eight more mouths to feed). . .

And so it goes. In fact, those of you who were born after 1973, have you ever wondered how many children who might have been your friends or classmates or Little-League teammates, or heck, husbands or wives, were never allowed to be born? Cold statistics tell us that, in the US alone, the number would be on the order of 60 million or so by now (roughly the population of California and New York combined) - a fifth again of the population of our country (worldwide, the number would be many times that).  Do you ever wonder who those people might have been?

But just to cite a number misses the point. What music was never made, what literature was never written, what cures for which diseases never came about, for want of the men and women who might have done those things, but were never allowed to be born?

And even still - to talk in terms of 'who might have done what' misses the point, too. It's not so much that, eg, the late Steve Jobs (an adoptee like me) was so worthwhile for what he did, but that every human life is intrinsically valuable in-and-of-itself. And 'humanity-at-large' benefits from every one of its members, whether they 'accomplish anything' or not. Certainly, we've all benefitted from the fact that Steve Jobs, or Beethoven, or anyone else, were born and not aborted. But we'll never know, in terms other than bloodless, colorless statistics, what 'humanity-at-large' has lost for those tens of millions who were never born. . .

My point here is not to guilt-trip any woman who has ever had an abortion; my heart absolutely goes out to those women, for they, too, have had violence done to them; they've been sold a bill of goods, given a false promise. I only hope to put a more ‘human’ face on the question, and challenge anyone to think of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ not as a ‘problem’ with an easy technological solution, but as something real, and human, and flesh-and-blood. And life-and-death.

-------------------------

I don’t think my birth-mother is terrible for wishing she’d had more choices available to her.  Honestly, on one level, it’s easy for her to say; she’ll never bear the cost of having chosen otherwise (but, to be utterly clear - the very last thing I mean is to trivialize what it cost her for me to be here).

No, I actually think she’s pretty cool; as birth-mothers go, she’s definitely one of the best, and I am as happy as I can be that we’ve known each other for all these years. I understand how trapped she felt 60 years ago, and I absolutely appreciate, and am utterly grateful for, the sacrifice it was for her, for me to be here today. It’s personal for her in an entirely different, but analogous, way to how it’s personal for me. And I understand that.

Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, the only fitting response to which is gratitude.  I am as grateful as I can be for my life, my family, my wife and children, and all of my friends, including those of you who are reading this; for existence in this rich and fascinating Universe, and for the Hope of the World to Come.  And none of that could ever have come to pass for me, if I'd been snuffed out before I could be born.

So you see, it's personal - it involves persons, created in God's image and likeness, with inherent worth and dignity not conferred on them by any other human being. Mothers and fathers and children - persons, one-and-all. And my birth-mother is one of them. And so am I. . .

*************************

And here's a link to a 1974 short story by Philip K. Dick (whose stories inspired films like Blade Runner and Total Recall).  Probably not his best-known story, but eminently worth reading. . .

The Pre-Persons, by Philip K. Dick

I'd love to know what you think of it. . .


Friday, January 1, 2016

Ugh. . .

Well, football season is over for my Spartans, and it wasn't pretty.  Actually, it reminded me quite a bit of 7M's final game a few weeks ago, coincidentally enough, in the semi-finals, as well.  We came out and played quite competitively against what was probably a superior opponent to begin with, and just before halftime, we were looking OK.  Then, one catastrophic play just before halftime seemed to suck the air out of us, and after that, things got out of hand pretty quickly.

Hats off to the Crimson Tide, and especially to Jake Coker, their 'game manager' quarterback, who had the game of his life.  Every ball he threw was absolutely on a dime - I don't think he missed a single pass all night.  Even his five incompletions were on-target.  Our defensive front showed up to play, but our secondary, um, showed some deficiencies.  And our quarterback and offensive line, who were supposed to be our significant strengths. . . well, let's say they didn't have their best games (to be fair, the Alabama defense probably had a lot to do with that).

So football season is over.  I can't think we had anything less than a successful season - we were Big Ten champs for the third time in six years (and you have to go back almost 40 years to find three conference championships before that), beat both our major rivals, and earned a spot in one of the national semi-finals, even if we didn't acquit ourselves there quite as well as we'd have hoped.  Our program keeps taking positive steps, reaching incrementally higher year-upon-year.  So, in the spirit of the New Year, I'm hopeful for the future.

Anyway, it's basketball season now, and Coach Izzo's guys seem to have something good going on. . .

Happy New Year, everybody!


Monday, December 7, 2015

Drive Time

Wow. . .

My Spartans are Big Ten champions, and earned a place in the 4-team national championship playoff, with a grueling victory in the conference championship game against Iowa Saturday night (and into Sunday morning).  That was one of the best football games I've seen in quite some time - just two really good, really solid, really strong teams going toe-to-toe for the full 60 minutes.  Another of those games that it's a shame one team has to lose.  Iowa came into the game undefeated, and while some made light of their schedule, I am never one to take lightly any team that hasn't lost a game, nor am I inclined to glibly predict that our team will be someone else's first loss.  I expected a tough, close, hard-fought game that would have my stomach in knots as the final minutes wound down, and in that expectation, I was not disappointed.

The Spartans won the game with a 22-play drive covering 82 yards, converting six first downs and using up over 9 minutes of time on the game clock, even with Iowa using their three time-outs along the way.  I mean, seriously - I don't think I've ever heard of a 22-play drive before; you couldn't use very many more plays than that, and still keep the chains moving.  I haven't seen a complete play-by-play transcript of The Drive, but off the top of my head, I can't think of any set of downs that was converted before third down, and we converted at least one fourth down.  It seemed every time we made another first down, it was by inches, rather than yards.  I'm almost as exhausted just from watching it, as the players were who executed it (of course, they're in much better physical condition than I am).

The final few plays of the drive were a high drama of sheer will.  We converted a fourth down by the length of the football, on the 3-yard line (after getting absolutely stuffed on third down), and then it took us three plays to score the winning touchdown (our only touchdown of the game) starting from first-and-goal at the three-yard-line.  On the winning score, it looked for all the world like our runner was stopped inches short of the goal line, but by some superhuman second effort, the runner surged again, stuck his hand out with the ball in it, and scored with 27 seconds left on the clock.  Just incredible.

(And I should give a special mention to the runner, LJ Scott, who will certainly go down in Spartan lore; I don't think I've ever seen a runner get so many yards on second effort, after he'd been, to all appearances, stopped dead in his tracks.  I'm a little in awe that he's a true freshman; I shudder to think of him, a year ago, playing against high school guys like my son.)

I tip my hat to the Hawkeyes; that was a really, REALLY good team, there, and it's not hard to see how they came into the game undefeated.  Their defense gave us darn little, and even by the fourth quarter, when our offensive line started to get it rolling a bit, we were getting three yards and four, not eight or ten.  And I don't think I've ever seen a defensive backfield knock so many passes out of the hands of receivers at the last instant.  And my goodness, when did Kirk Ferentz (the Iowa coach) become such a wide-open, go-for-broke coach?  There was a stretch early in the fourth quarter, where they passed deep on three plays out of five, including a picture-perfect (if you're an Iowa fan) 85-yard touchdown that put us in the position of needing a long drive to the winning score in the first place.  So hats off to our more-than-worthy opponents.

So now, we go on to the 4-team National Championship playoff.  Our first opponent is Alabama, which ought to be interesting enough, even if their coach hadn't been our coach once upon a time, and won four national championships at two schools since he left us.  I think we've gotten past wishing he was still our coach; Mark D'Antonio has had more success at MSU than Nick Saban ever did.  So God bless you, coach; we're doing just fine, thanks.  We played the Tide in a Citrus Bowl back in 2010, and they fairly well handed us our asses.  But I'm pretty sure we're a better team now than we were then.  Besides, our friends from Ohio State beat them in last year's playoff, and we've won two of our last three against the Buckeyes.  Which is to say, I expect it to be a competitive game, and I'm not conceding anything to our Southeastern friends; win or lose, they will know they've been in a football game.

And besides all that, our basketball team is #1, and looking as good as any team we've ever had.  Good times to be a Spartan, let me tell you. . .