Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Please Pray, Won't You?



I've only got about 4 or 5 more-or-less regular readers left here in The Yard, and one of 'em, Buck Pennington, the Exile in Portales, is pretty seriously ill just lately, enough to be in an ICU one state over from home.  Would you please take a moment to offer a prayer for his recovery?  (Buck, who I believe has Buddhist leanings, likes to make reference to The Deity At Hand; I'm quite sure, at any rate, that The Deity At Hand knows Who He Is, whether we do or not. . .)  Buck has become a good friend over the blog-years (even if he is a fancier of Notre Dame; we hold the Red Wings in common, though), and I would hate to lose him just yet. . .

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(update, 20 December)

Buck's sons posted of his passing yesterday.  Clearly, the Deity At Hand has His own inscrutable plans for Buck. . .

I will miss him.

Requiescat In Pace, Buck

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Pair of Heart-Warming Vignettes. . .

Or at least, so they seem to me. . .

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One night recently, Jenn and I were in our bedroom, preparing to retire for the night, when she looked at me, grinning broadly.

"We're doing it!" she said, enthusiastically.

Um, doing what, Sweetheart?

"We always said we wanted to grow old together, and we're doing it!  We're growing old!  Together!"

What could I say to that?  Yes, we are.  And there's no-one I'd rather grow old with than you, dear. . .

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I was a recent visitor to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn (a very cool place, if you're at all into historical machinery).  At one point, I was walking across an open space past a group of a half-dozen or so girls, who were, I would guess, around seven or eight years of age.  One of the girls, bolder than the others, perhaps noting my, um, girthiness, combined with my mostly-white beard and graying hair, approached me to ask, "Are you Santa Claus?"

I smiled at her benignly.  "No," I replied. "I'm his brother."

As I walked away, I heard behind me a chatter of excited voices - "That guy is Santa Claus' brother!"  "Really?!?"  "No, he's not!"  "Uh-HUH!  He told me!"

And I smiled. . .

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The weather around these parts has been unseasonably warm/dry for December.  High 30s/low 40s, and aside from a couple inches the week before Thanksgiving, we really haven't had any snow to speak of.  And thus, I've gotten in two rides, for 27 miles, so far in December (and 1063 for the year).  I've also flatted three of the last four times I've gone out on my bike (*aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh*).  My working hypothesis is that, the roads being just slightly damp this time of year, stones stick to the surface of the tire, and slowly get pounded through to eventually puncture the inner tube.  But. . . December miles.  I'll take all I can get. . .

(*update, 17 December*)

I finally took my bike in to the shop to see if he could figure out any hidden causes of my recent rash of flats.  Turns out, I had three pieces of glass lodged in my tire, none of 'em so deeply that I could discover 'em with the standard run of my fingers across the inside of the tire (I always do that because, you know, if you leave the cause of the flat in place, you're gonna get repeated flats. . .) (D'oh!)  So, when I'd go out and ride for 20 miles or so, the little sharp edges would keep poking at the inner tube until, Voila! a complete puncture occurred.  So, one new tire later, I'm (I hope) back in business. . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent, One More Time. . .

In recent years, in solidarity with my friend Suldog and his Thanksgiving Comes First campaign, I've re-posted a piece on Advent that I originally ran eight years ago.  This year, I offer it to you once again, lightly edited. . .

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This past Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent - the beginning of the Christian season of spiritual preparation for Christmas, and the beginning of a new liturgical year (so hey, Happy New Year!). Over the years, I've really come to love Advent, imperfectly though I may observe it. In rough terms, Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter, with a bit more low-key emphasis on the whole 'penitential' thing. Rightly done, Advent is a time of contemplation, a time to step back from the normal frenzy of daily life, take a few deep breaths, and anticipate the coming joy of Christmas. One of the old traditional Advent hymns bids us

Make your house fair, as you are able,

in preparation to welcome God in human flesh four weeks hence.  So, Advent is pretty much the polar opposite of 'consumer Christmas'. Pausing for contemplation is not a thing we Americans are terribly inclined to do (perhaps I should rather say it's a thing that we're inclined to do terribly).

In the larger American culture, the 'Christmas season' runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day, but in traditional Christian circles, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and runs until Epiphany (January 6) - thus, the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' - and Advent is marked out by the four Sundays immediately preceeding Christmas. So, when most of our neighbors are finished with Christmas (sometime in the late afternoon or evening of December 25th), we're just getting started. It always perplexes me just a bit to see all the Christmas trees out on the curb on the 26th; when Jenn was a kid, Catholics didn't even put their Christmas trees up until Christmas Eve. And, just as I'm getting pumped to finally be singing 'Joy to the World' and 'O Come, All Ye Faithful', most of my neighbors are sick of the whole 'Christmas thing'.

Maybe I should blame it on the Magi - they started the whole giving-gifts-at-Christmas thing. I doubt they had any clue how far it would get out-of-hand, though.

When it comes right down to it, though, I've got to admit that my spiritual preparation for Christmas is my own responsibility. It's not up to American culture to get me spiritually prepared. It might be nice if the culture were more supportive (or even just less disruptive) of what I'm trying to accomplish, but it is what it is.

So, our family is setting out on Advent. If, over the next few weeks, I seem a little reticent and low-key about Christmas, you'll understand, won't you? And then, if I'm getting all Christmas-y just when you're getting tired of it all, you'd be very kind to indulge me. In the meantime, I'll be over here, singing 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel', in a minor key. . .

Sunday, November 30, 2014

So Close. . .

Alas. . .

7M's football team lost a heart-breaker in the Division 5 State Championship game at the big domed stadium in Detroit, to the defending state champs.  The final score was 24-20, and we can take some small comfort from the fact that it was one of the more intense, competitive, exciting games of the championship weekend (Michigan crowns 8 state champions, in divisions according to enrollment). . .

Our guys started off slowly, making uncharacteristic mistakes (it's possible they were in awe, or at least a bit jittery, at the whole ambiance of the dome, and the championship stakes), and fell behind 17-0 by the middle of the second quarter.  They scored a touchdown just before halftime to make it 17-6 at the half (and those of us who keep track of such things were looking at each other saying, "hey, it's closer than it was in the semis". . .).

In the second half, the defense stiffened, and the offense started to find its rhythm.  In the third quarter, we mounted a 96-yard drive to a touchdown, making the score 17-13.  The defense stopped the opposing offense, and then the offense went back to work, starting again at our own 4-yard line.  They marched up the field and scored the go-ahead touchdown, making the score 20-17  in our favor with just over 7 minutes left in the game (it turns out that that was the first time all year that our opponents had been behind after halftime).

But of course, our opponents didn't become the undefeated defending state champions by going away quietly when things get difficult.  They began a slow, painstaking, 17-play drive, converting on fourth down three times, scoring the winning touchdown with a minute left in the game.  Hats off to them.

I'm sure that both teams tested each other as severely as either of them had been tested all season.  (Cliche alert!)  It's just a shame that one of them had to lose (and all the moreso that the loser had to be us).  Honestly (Cliche alert, redux) it was a great game, if you didn't care who won (but alas, I did. . .)

7M played a good game.  He made a couple tackles (and got his name called over the PA at Ford Field!), and generally contributed to the success of our defense.  And he was inconsolable at the final result (as were his teammates and coaches).  I'm sure, at some point, they'll all gain some perspective on the privilege they had of just playing in such a game, and taking the champions to the limit of their ability, but for now, getting so close and coming up empty feels maddeningly cruel.

7M is a junior, as are the majority of the starters on the team, so they'll have another opportunity next year.  I told 7M after the game that, starting now, he's one of the senior leaders on next year's team, and if they want to go back again and win, it will take even more hard work than what they put in to get so close this year.  Nothing whatsoever is guaranteed them; they'll have to earn their spot all over again, and it'll be no easier next year.  But they're in a position, having been there once, to understand what it takes.  We will see what we will see. . .

But it has been a heck of a ride this time through.  I'd love to do it again. . .

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I was given a gratuitous gift of temperatures in the 50s this afternoon, so I went out on my bike for 21 miles.  Combined with the 13 I did on Thanksgiving morning (which was cold, but clear and dry), I'm at 1036 for the year (and 160 for the month of November).  Of course, any December miles are a gift, but as the eminently quotable Yogi Berra once said, it ain't over until it's over. . .

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Gooooooooooooal!

(with apologies to Andres Cantor)

As if there weren't enough going on in our life. . .

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This afternoon, I was the beneficiary of a completely gratuitous harmonic convergence of warm non-frigid temperatures, dry ice-free roads, no hardly any rain, and no other commitments on my schedule for just long enough to get in a 17-mile bike ride, bringing my total for the year to 1002 miles.  At last!  It wasn't all that long ago that I was pretty dubious as to whether four-digit miles was even possible.  But I made it.  A little good news, and a nice dose of endorphins, are much appreciated just now. . .

And of course, the year still has five or six more weeks to run, so we'll see if the tally runs any higher, or not.  But at least my 'basic goal' is securely in the books. . .

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7M's football team played in the state semi-finals yesterday evening.  The team they played had been winning their games by the same kind of lop-sided scores we've been, and they were clearly the best team we've seen all season.  Things didn't start out so well for our kids; they trailed, 14-0 at halftime, and looked flustered and out-of-sync.  But something clicked in the halftime locker room.  They received the second-half kickoff, and drove the field for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 14-7.  Their opponent took the ensuing kickoff and drove down to our 10-yard line.  They tried to run a Statue-of-Liberty play, but fumbled, and our kids recovered.  Another 90-yard drive, and the score was tied, 14-14.  Our defense held, and then the offense drove to another touchdown, with just over three minutes left in the game.  The defense held again, and then the offense ran out the clock, with the final score 21-14 in our favor.

It was an incredible game to watch, even if you didn't care who won.  The fact that my son was playing for the winning team made it even better.  It was good for them to realize that they could dig deep and win a game that hung very much in the balance right to the end.  They haven't had many of those this year.

So now, they get to play for the state championship at Ford Field in Detroit next Saturday afternoon.  What a thrill for these kids!  The team we're playing is the defending state champion, so they won't be overawed by their surroundings, and they won't be intimidated.  As hard as the semi-final was to win, the final will surely be even harder.  But, what a run!  What a great ride!


(7M is number 33, just right of center)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Oh, Brother. . .

It was 10 years ago this month that Jenn's sister ended her own life.  She had been the 'black sheep' among Jenn's siblings, sort of the 'wild hippie child' type, and I usually enjoyed my own interactions with her.  Even so, for whatever reasons of her own, at 47 years of age, she decided that her life was not something she wanted to continue doing, so she ended it.

I immediately thought back to her when I got word last night that my brother (call him S; he was really my step-brother, but in our blended family, we quickly dispensed with any 'step-' designations, since we were effectively a new family, starting from scratch) had ended his own life.  He was 59.

I had a very, uh, complex relationship with S.  When his mom married my dad, he was the oldest of three kids that she brought with her into the new marriage, and I was older of dad's two kids.  To make things even more fun, we were only six months apart in age, and in the same grade in school; we were both 10 years old.  So, the first year we spent together was mostly engaged in establishing a proper pecking-order for alpha-hood.  And, at least at first, S was a better pecker than I was. . .

He had grown up largely on the mean streets of our hometown Up North (which, you might surmise, weren't all that mean, but you get the idea), whereas I had grown up as a pretty sheltered nerd-boy.  Most of the disputes between us devolved pretty quickly into him punching me repeatedly on my shoulder, until I cried and gave up.  But the long-term effect of our association, at least as far as I was concerned, was that I became less sheltered, more social, and more inclined (to say nothing of able) to physically defend myself.

At some point (probably around the same time as I had my pubescent growth-spurt), it dawned on me that I really didn't need to back down from him.  One time, when we had a group of neighborhood boys in our backyard for a pickup football game, he started teasing me, riding me pretty hard, and I decided that it was time to take a stand, so I chased him around the yard for several minutes, while our friends (mostly his friends, really) watched with amusement.  And I saw fear in his face.  Our relationship improved after that.

At the same time, we fairly quickly found a couple significant points of common interest - we shared a passion for the Detroit Tigers, and baseball more generally, and for the Beatles' music.  Together, we would stay up late at night, listening to a Tigers game from the west coast, or savoring the latest Beatles recording (33-1/3 rpm black vinyl, thank you very much).  We had some epic wiffle-ball games in the backyard.  And in those moments, we were brothers, and forgot all about who was pecking whom.

S was not a dumb guy, but school was never his thing, whereas I loved school, and excelled at it.  Our sister, next-younger than the two of us, one grade behind us, told us how one year, on the first day of school, her teacher, who had had both S and I the year before, called her name, and recognizing the surname, looked up, scanning the class, and asked, "Are you like S, or are you like Craig?"  Poor kid.

S always had a tense relationship with Dad.  Having spent most of his formative years without an effective paternal presence, he didn't take well to Dad's more, um, interventionist approach.  On the eve of our junior year of high school, S ran away one night, and never really came home after that.  He was taken in by a family a couple hundred miles away, who called Mom and Dad, and they worked out an arrangement for S to live there and go to school for that year.  The following year, he moved on again, lived on his own and got a job in the instrument-repair shop of a large music company.  Sports and music were the two large themes of his life.

Our family moved to a large metropolitan area in another state, basically simultaneously with my going to college.  Around the same time, S took a transfer to a place in the same metro area, so the family was, at least nominally, back in the same place together, and S re-integrated himself into the ebb and flow of the life of our family.

In his young adulthood, and really, into his 40s, S had a series of really interesting jobs, interspersed with periods of. . . less interesting jobs.  He spent time working in the sales/marketing staffs of both the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs (a couple times, he got me tickets to games and got me into the clubhouse), and even went to LA for a while and worked for the Lakers (I live in Magic Johnson's hometown, but he got an autographed Lakers media guide for me).  He did some freelance journalism (he was a talented writer, his lack of schooling notwithstanding), and promoted a few concerts (off the top of my head, Arlo Guthrie is one of the bigger names he ever promoted).  Really interesting stuff, but somehow, none of it ever really took hold for the long-term.  He had at least one 'serious' girlfriend, but never married.  How shall I say it?  Ummmmmm. . . substance problems. . .

The last decade or so, things didn't go well for him; work became sporadic, then nonexistent.  He moved in with Mom and Dad, until Mom went to a nursing home, and Dad moved to assisted living.  His final crisis seems to have been triggered when his indulgent landlord finally decided that he couldn't afford to be quite so indulgent anymore, and homelessness loomed (and homelessness, with snow already on the ground and another hard winter in the offing, is not a happy prospect).

As when Jenn's sister killed herself, my first thought is, "What the hell did you go and do that for?"  I confess, I haven't lived his life; I don't know the despair that lurked in his soul.  I want to think that he was loved enough to have seen his life through, but then, I ask myself, have I done enough to make him know that?  (Ironically, the medical examiner found cancer in him that might well have killed him before too much longer, anyway, though he seems not to have known that)

It's a little late to say that I will miss him.  In his last years, he wasn't much of a presence in our lives; he would come to family gatherings, and mostly sit quietly in a corner, away from the rest of us.  So I never really knew the raw, unvarnished state of his life, until it was nearly over.

But I will miss him.  We shared an awful lot of our formative years together.  We fought.  We reconciled.  We came to respect, and, I daresay, love each other.  I am so sad that his life went so badly at the end, and I wonder if I should have done more to help it go better (though, at the same time, I doubt that I could have).  In the end, I am left with the sure knowledge of God's mercy, both for S and for me.  And I'm grateful to have shared such of my life with him as I have. . .

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Woolly Bear



Or, Science From Your Bicycle Seat. . . Sorta. . .

As I'm out on my bike during the fall months, one of the more common sights I encounter is a woolly-bear caterpillar wriggling across the road as I roll by.  I have no idea why the caterpillars like wriggling across the pavement; seems like a kind of death-wish to me.  But then, possums are vertebrates and mammals, and I see lots of them along the side of the road, also, but usually in a more, um, deceased configuration.  So, brain-mass-for-brain-mass, maybe the woolly-bear caterpillar is actually smarter than the possum, since most of the caterpillars I see are still, you know, actively wriggling.

Now, some of you will know that there is a folk-legend associated with the woolly worms, as to predicting the harshness of the coming winter (and if you didn't know that before now, you're welcome).  The woolly-bear features prominently in the Old Farmer's Almanac's winter prognostications.  The legend goes that, the more dark bands on the 'typical' woolly-bear, the harsher the coming winter stands to be (on the theory, I suppose, that the darker bands will absorb more heat, from the scarce amount that's available).  Just for totally anecdotal purposes, last fall it was not uncommon to see completely-black woolly-bears, which portended a hard winter.  And so it was.  Some years ago, I recall seeing several woolly-bears that were all-brown, or even orange, which indicated a particularly mild winter in the offing, and so it was.  The actual scientific basis for such predictions is, uh, a matter of some controversy, but there you have it; a peek behind the curtain at the Old Farmer's Almanac.

And in case anybody is wondering, this fall, the woolly-bears I've seen have been pretty nominally-colored, with about the middle third of them brown, and black on the ends.  So, at least here in Michigan, that would portend a pretty normal winter, neither harsher nor milder than usual.  In case, you know, you were wondering.  Just remember, you heard it here first. . .

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On a related front, I got in 25 miles on my bike yesterday (with temps in the mid-30s and a few very scattered snow flakes), bringing my total for the year to 985.  Just need to find 15 more miles before winter settles in for the duration. . .

This morning, there's a light dusting of snow on the ground.  It wouldn't be enough to keep me from riding, especially with 1000 miles looming so close.  But today is Opening Day of Firearm Deer Season in Michigan, and the light dusting of snow will be a boon to the hunters.  And those hunters are part of the reason I decided to ride yesterday, and not today.  And also why I wear a blaze-orange hoodie on my rides in November. . .

7M's football team won their third-round playoff game Friday night, 49-21.  They were behind, 14-12, just a minute before halftime, so the game was closer than the score might seem to indicate.  This win puts them in the Division 5 state semi-finals; one more win, and they get to play in the dome in Detroit.  Exciting times for those young men, for sure. . .