Wednesday, December 25, 2013


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

           - St. Athanasius (4th cent.)


"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


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.


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. . .

Monday, December 9, 2013


Four months ago today was Jen's-and-my 33rd wedding anniversary.

Which means that, today, we've been married for a third of a century.

Time flies when you're having fun, eh?

(And, for those who are wondering - you know who you are - a second third would take us both past our 90th birthdays; but we can talk about that once we make the half. . .)


Sunday, December 8, 2013


I'm sorry to inflict yet another sports post on you all (or at least, on those of you who drop in for reasons other than checking in on my rooting interests), but this has been an autumn of exceeding wonderfulness for my favorite sports teams.  First, my Tigers advanced to within a game or two of the World Series, and now my Spartans are Big Ten football champions, having defeated the Buckeyes of Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game last night (and just for the sake of wondering, the fact that the Big Ten conference has twelve teams in it is passing curious, no?  And even more fun, the Big Twelve conference has ten teams in it; yes, these numerically-challenged conferences are composed of universities charged with educating young adults to take their place as future world leaders; should we be worried?)

It has been a good year for the football Spartans, mainly owing to a superior defense which, at its best, could just suck the life out of opposing offenses.  OSU was definitely the best team we had faced all season, and their offense tested our defense in ways that no-one else had.  Even so, the Spartans charged out to an early 17-0 lead, and things were looking good in Spartan-land halfway through the second quarter.  Of course, the Buckeyes didn't arrive at last night's game undefeated without knowing how to throw a counter-punch (figuratively speaking), and by the middle of the third quarter, they had taken a 24-17 lead.  But at that point, my Spartans managed to blunt the Buckeye momentum and threw a few (figurative) counter-punches of their own, and when it was all said and done, we had a 34-24 victory and the 2013 Big Ten football championship, which comes with a free trip to Pasadena on New Year's Day, to play the Stanford Cardinal in the Rose Bowl.

GO GREEN!  all over again.

It has been a stunning year for my Spartans.  Last year's team finished with a record of 7-6, having lost five games by a total of 13 points, largely due to an especially, uh, challenged offense.  And most of the best players from last year's offense graduated, so we weren't necessarily expecting this year to be leaps and bounds better than last year.  And in fact, for the early, non-conference portion of the schedule, our offense continued to struggle mightily, even while our defense took up where last year's suffocating defense left off (after the first three games, the defense had actually scored more points than the offense had, leading some of the more cynical Spartans among us to suggest that we should take to punting on first down, since that would give us more opportunities to score).

But gradually, as the season wore on, the offense slowly came together to where it was more of an asset than a liability, and the defense just stonewalled everything in sight.  We completed the conference schedule undefeated (our only loss all season was a non-conference game against some Catholic school from just across the Indiana state line; we'd love to get another crack at that game, but whatcha gonna do?), and earned a spot in the conference championship game for the second time in the last three years.

And this time, we won.  We're 12-1 heading into the Rose Bowl, a school record for wins, and the third time in four years that we've won 11 games or more.  It's only the third time in my lifetime that we're in the Rose Bowl; the last time was 26 years ago, back when Jen and I only had two kids (and 3M was 'in the oven'). Much as I said about my Tigers earlier in the fall, we haven't been accustomed to quite such lofty and sustained success.  But we are sure as heck enjoying the ride. . .

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Then Thank the Lord

I came across this hymn recently.  I'm sure it's of more traditional provenance than the setting I (and folks of my, uh, antiquity) recall from the 70s-era musical Godspell, but that's the tune I have in mind when I read this.  Anyway, today being Thanksgiving, it seems suitably apropos. . .


We Plough the Fields
     by Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)

We plough the fields and scatter
     The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
     By God's almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter,
     The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
     And soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us
     Are sent from Heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
     For all His love.

He only is the Maker
     Of all things near and far
He paints the wayside flower,
     He lights the evening star.
The winds and waves obey Him,
     By Him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, His children,
     He gives our daily bread.

All good gifts around us
     Are sent from Heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
     For all His love.

We thank Thee then, O Father,
     For all things bright and good,
The seed-time and the harvest,
     Our life, our health, our food.
No gifts have we to offer
     For all Thy love imparts,
But that which Thou desirest,
     Our humble, thankful hearts.

All good gifts around us
     Are sent from Heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
     For all His love.


"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
     His steadfast love endures forever."
          - Psalm 107:1  (also Psalm 118:1, Psalm 136:1)

I wish a happy and richly-blessed Thanksgiving to all my friends and their families.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Word to the Wise. . .

A while back, I was engaging in some playful teasing with a lawyer friend of mine, when he got a mischievous look on his face and told me (I'd say he reminded me, but it honestly hadn't occurred to me before then):

"You know, if you and I should ever happen to be in court together, you'll have to swear an oath to tell the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.  I won't. . ."


And hey, while I'm thinking of it, how 'bout my Spartans?  Undefeated in the Big Ten (with one game left to play), they punched their ticket to the conference championship game yesterday.  I told some of my friends from the school down the road that winning our game with them is nice, but we're REALLY looking forward to playing Ohio State. . .  Heh. . .

Anyway, Coach D'Antonio has got it goin' on in Spartan-land.  We're not used to this level of high, sustained success.  Or beating our friends down the road with quite such regularity.  But we're sure as heck enjoying every minute of it. . .

And the basketball team isn't doing too badly, either. . .


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cats. . . and Possums

When we lived in our previous house, there was an elderly gentleman in the neighborhood who kept 30-or-so cats in his house.  Which bothered nobody at all; he kept them in his house, and looked after them, and it all impinged on none of the rest of us in the neighborhood.  When, inevitably, the gentleman became sufficiently aged that he couldn't look after himself anymore, his kids came to clean out his house, and, when it came to figuring out what to do with 30-or-so surplus cats, they decided that the most efficient course of action was to just broom them all out the back door, to fend for themselves in the neighborhood, as best they could.  Wonderful people, that man's kids. . .

And immediately, of course, we neighbors noticed all these stray cats, in all kinds of unpleasant ways - diarrhea in sand boxes, stuff like that.  We called the Animal Control people at City Hall, and they told us that they would come to capture a loose dog, but they wouldn't capture a cat for us.  If we, however, managed to capture a cat, they told us they would be happy to come and take it away.

As it turned out, one of our neighbors was an occasional hunter of small game, and he had a spring-loaded squirrel trap, which was a tad small for cats, but we decided to give it a try, and see if it would work in a pinch. And what do you know, it did.  Like a charm.  Every night, we'd put the trap out in some hidden corner of the yard (we'd alternate days between his yard and ours, just to keep things varied), baited with an open can of cat food or tuna.  And virtually without fail, the following morning, we'd have a caged cat.  We'd call Animal Control, and they'd come and take the critter away.  We counted something like 20 cats we caught, between the two of us.  We figured the other 10 were either taken in by cat-lovers or wandered off to another neighborhood, or died, or were still living off the land, but clever enough not to get caught.

After a month or so, we stopped getting cats, and started getting possums instead.  Which surprised me, on a couple levels.  First, that the change was very sharply defined - one day, we were getting cat after cat after cat, and then, abruptly, we weren't getting any more cats; none at all, but possums instead.  So maybe the cats were dumber, or less streetwise, than the possums (having seen both cats and possums in action, though, I don't think that was it), or maybe they scared the possums off, and once there were no more cats, the possums figured they could grab the goodies for themselves; I don't know.  Second, that there were so many possums at large around our neighborhood - we probably caught a possum a night for a week, before we decided that, much as we wanted to rid the neighborhood of stray cats, we really didn't care to keep catching possums in perpetuity.  'Cuz, you know, possums are just that disgusting.  We were aided in reaching this conclusion by the folks at Animal Control, who told us that, whereas they were happy to come and take a cat off our hands, they had no interest in relieving us of any surplus possums, and told us we could release them into the wild.

Well, as luck would have it, there is a low, swampy area about a half-mile from our neighborhood, so the first few possums were power-shifted to the swamp, which wasn't too onerous a task.  But after a week of daily trips to the swamp, we grew weary of the daily expense of effort required for the Possum Relocation Plan, and decided that, however many possums remained at large in the neighborhood, we were willing to adopt a policy of peaceful co-existence, as long as the possums were agreeable, which they proved to be.  At least, they never made any trouble for me. . .


As long as I've got you here, reading about possums (and why anyone would want to read this much about possums is quite beyond me, but de gustibus, I guess) (although, now that I think about it, I suppose it's at least interesting that possums are the only marsupial native to North America; just, you know, for what it's worth). . .

A buddy of mine is a deer hunter.  One fine late-November day, he was out in Michigan's beautiful woods, enjoying the crisp, fresh autumnal air, and hoping to cross paths with a deer he could turn into food for his family, when he happened upon a rotting deer carcass in the woods.  He shook his head sadly, because some hunter had obviously shot the deer, which had then bolted and outrun the unfortunate hunter's ability to track it, eventually dying, but no longer fit to be eaten; the waste of such a fine animal was a sad thing, indeed.

The deer had been dead for a few days, my friend surmised, as it was emitting a powerful stench, and my friend, not wanting to linger near the rotting carcass for very long, began to turn and walk away, when. . .

From between the deer's hind-quarters (ie, right out of its, uh, anus), a small, furry head appeared.  It was a possum, which had been engaged in eating the rotting deer's intestines and their, uh, contents.  The possum looked up at my friend with an impatient look, as if to say, "Can I help you with something?  'Cuz, you know, I'm kinda busy just now."  Which, I suppose, might tell you more about possums and their, uh, lifestyle, than perhaps you wanted to know. . .


Joeh pointed out to me that I gave the 'condensed version' of this story in the comments to a couple of possum posts at his blog several months ago.  So, if you just haven't had your possum fix completely satiated here, go ahead and check them out. . .

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wait 'Til Next Year, I Guess. . . Again

Well, those of you who have been following the first couple games of the World Series have no doubt noticed that my Tigers aren't playing in it.  Alas.  They could only manage to win two games in the time it took the Red Sox to win the requisite four, and so our friends from Boston have duly moved on to the championship round, and congratulations to them on that account.  They are a good team, and most definitely worthy contestants for Baseball's Ultimate Prize; we wish them well.

I hope it doesn't come off sounding like sour grapes, but I will admit to a degree of frustration that you all didn't get to see my Tigers at their best (starting pitching aside).  Our best hitter (and, if I may be so bold, the Best Hitter in Baseball Today) (heck, one of the best ever), Miguel Cabrera, was a shell of himself, owing to an injury that hobbled him from the beginning of September on.  Now, a shell of Miguel Cabrera is still pretty decent, as hitters go, but quite a hit to the Tigers' offense, nonetheless.  And our bullpen was a trainwreck.  Losing one game of a best-4-of-7 series to a late-inning grand slam is bad, but stuff happens, right?  Doing it twice in six games is awful.  But then, really, it's nothing new.  Our bullpen struggled all year, and our bats were prone to maddening stretches of quietude, especially given some of the hitters we've got on our team.  Given the overall level of talent on our roster, we should have won our division by WAY more than the single game that separated us from the Cleveland Indians at season's end (and in saying that, I do not denigrate the Indians in the slightest; they played well and hard all season, and I take my hat off to 'em).  So, the Boston series was, in many ways, a microcosm of our whole season - excellence punctuated by glaring flaws.  And ain't that just the way of things?

Anyway, congratulations to Red Sox Nation, and good luck in the World Series!

(If my friend Suldog is reading this, the ingredients for the bean soup are now in place, and the slow-cooking should be commencing soon.  Then it remains only to get the payment of my debt into your hands.  Soon, my friend, soon.)


And then Monday (at the risk of totally driving away the non-baseball portion of whatever meager number of readers I still have left), our manager, Jim Leyland, announced that he was retiring, and wouldn't be managing the team any more.  He's 68 years old, so I suppose it shouldn't have come as a complete surprise, but it did.  Man, that is a blow.  I'm hopeful that our team is strong enough to attract a capable replacement, but Jim Leyland has been one of the best managers the Tigers have ever had.  You can see my previous post about three post-seasons in a row, and four in eight years, and all that.  It's hard to express, as a Tiger fan, how unique this period of time has been.  The Tigers have not been prone to long, sustained eras of excellence.  Typically, they've had short peaks of 'Wonderful', amid long stretches of Competitively Above Average (and, in the decade or so before Leyland arrived, more years of Putrid Awfulness than we'd have preferred).  So, we're not used to this Every-Year-In-the-Playoffs thing.  And Jim Leyland presided over all of it.  Even Sparky Anderson, our Hall-of-Fame manager from the 80s-90s, only took the Tigers to two League Championship Series, and one World Series, in 17 seasons.  Leyland doubled both those accomplishments, in half as many years.  The only thing he didn't do with the Tigers is win a World Series (though he did win one with the '97 Marlins).

Anyway, good luck, Mr. Leyland.  We will sure miss you.


I would have intended to post this a few days ago, in the more immediate aftermath of our series with Boston, but the end of last week, work, um. . . exploded.  Stuff was breaking that wasn't supposed to be breaking, and the first order of business was to figure out WHY it was breaking, because, as designed, it wasn't supposed to be seeing any load conditions that would even remotely cause it to break.  And then we had to re-work the design, so that it doesn't break any more.  And math, math, science, science, etc, etc. engineer-speak.  The immediate upshot of which is that I worked last Saturday, and, even given that I didn't go in to the office until 8PM Sunday, I worked another 6 hours that day, too.  And this week has featured 10-12 hour days pretty much every day.  I'm starting to lose track of my normal circadian cycle.  I like my job, and there's something exhilarating about really kicking ass to solve a problem, but a week is about all of that that I can stand.  I'm fortunate that Jen is willing to take up the slack while I help slay the dragon, and that our marriage is strong enough to bear the strain, but any day now, I'm ready to go back home and kiss my wife and hug my kids and forget all about cars and machines and computers and such.  KnowwhatImean?

And then, last night, as I was wrapping up the latest 12-hour day, my phone rings with a text message from Jen, informing me that 7M broke his wrist playing football, and she was on her way to the hospital with him.  So, there's that.  He'll recover, and so will we all.  But right about now, I could use a cold beer and a ballgame on TV, and absolutely nothing to think about for the next three days. . .

Friday, October 11, 2013

Movin' On. . .

Well, once again, for the third year in a row, my Tigers have passed through the Division Series round of Major League Baseball's post-season playoffs, and earned for themselves the right to play for the American League championship.  And this time, we get to play against my friend Suldog's Boston Red Sox (or Sawx, if, you know, you're from there. . .)  Now that the Sox have won themselves a couple World Series in the last decade, they'll happily revert to their status quo ante as baseball's (or at least the American League's) calvinistically star-crossed team, right?  The Curse of the Bambino, and all that (or, maybe now there's a Curse of The Youk) (well, there could be. . .) (or maybe a Curse of Josh Beckett; wait, is that laughter I hear coming from the Northeast?)  Yeah, I know. . . probably not. . .

But you know, it's actually fairly amazing to me that we're here.  A couple days ago, it really didn't look like we would be.  When the A's won Game 3 of our series, things were not looking good for mis Tigres.  Of the first 27 innings between the Tigers and A's, the Tigers had failed to score in 25 of them, including one excruciating stretch of 20 in a row.  Incredibly, Justin Verlander threw 15 innings in two starts against the A's, without giving up a single run, and only had one victory to show for it (and the tying run was at the plate in the 9th inning last night. . . but, I'm getting ahead of myself).

Game 4 was a great game, unless you have heart issues.  Once again, the A's took the early lead, and halfway through the game, the Tigers had yet to score, running their scoring drought to 29 of their first 31 turns at bat.  They tied the game in the bottom of the 5th, but the A's re-took the lead in the top of the 7th, leaving the Tigers nine outs from elimination.  But Victor Martinez tied the game on a home run that may or may not have been interfered with by a fan (OK, OK, it WAS interfered with, but if Reddick actually catches that ball, it's one of the great catches of all time; just sayin'), and then Austin Jackson, who set a record by striking out 13 times (13 times!!) in a 5-game series, drove in the go-ahead run while splinters of his bat were flying in every direction at once.

Looking good, right?  Not so fast.  In the top of the 8th, Max Scherzer (this year's Best Pitcher on the Tigers, and possible Cy Young Award winner), pitching in relief, loads the bases with nobody out.  Uh-oh (as in, Uh-freakin'-Oh).  Two strikeouts and a fly-out later, and the lead is intact.  Edge-of-the-seat, pressure baseball at its very finest, right there.  We add three more runs in the bottom of the 8th (and a good thing, too, 'cuz the A's scored two more in the 9th), and escape to Game 5.

Then, last night, Justin Verlander pitched for the Tigers, and, just like he did last year, squeezed all the life out of the poor A's, who have got to be having nightmares about Verlander about now.  In the last two playoffs, Verlander has started four games against the A's, allowing a single run in the first inning of Game 1 last year, and nothing since.  30 consecutive turns at bat against Verlander, and the A's have yet to score their second playoff run against him.  (Just as a footnote to what I was saying above - counting the two playoff games so far, Verlander has had ten starts this season in which he gave up no runs; ten starts, no runs, and his record in those ten games is 5-0, with five - count 'em five - no-decisions, every single one of which eventuated in a loss for the Tigers; and thereby hangs a tale of the sometime frustrations of this season for Tiger fans. . .)  The A's didn't get their first base-runner until a one-out walk in the 6th inning, and two outs into the 7th, Verlander was still working on a no-hitter.  The Tigers weren't exactly lighting up the skies offensively, either, but somehow or other, Miguel Cabrera (who is to hitting roughly what Verlander has been to pitching, except that nagging 'lower-body' injuries have sapped his power, and his ability to, uh, move, since September; ever see a 370-foot single off the wall? Tiger fans have). . . Okay, uh, where was I, before I was abducted by parentheses?  Oh, yeah - Miguel Cabrera turned on an inside fastball with a runner on, so we actually had a couple runs on the board.  Which, the way Verlander was pitching, could last into February, if it had to.  And we're movin' on. . .

. . . to Boston, and a best-of-seven series with the Suldog's Red Sox for the championship of the American League.  It should be a good series; the Red Sox are a good team, and one of the few whose starting pitching is close to as good as ours (*cough*Dodgers*cough*).  And their hitting might be better than ours (at least, the way we've been hitting lately).  We've never played the Red Sox in the post-season before (heck, from the beginning of divisional play in '69, through 2005, the Tigers played in exactly three League Championship Series, all of them while the Tigers and Red Sox were in the same division, so that wouldn't be as surprising as all that).

And all of a sudden, Jim Leyland's move of using Max Scherzer in relief in Game 4, looks like a genius move; now, Anibal Sanchez (the AL's ERA leader, and nominally the second-best pitcher on the Tigers this year) will start Game 1 against the Sox, and Scherzer and Verlander will pitch Games 2 and 3; should the series go the full seven games, Scherzer and Verlander will pitch Games 6 and 7.  Nice.

Anyway, it should be a fun series, between two really good teams.

Let's Go, Tigers!

Friday, October 4, 2013

October Baseball. . . Again

Well, it's October, and my Tigers are back in Major League Baseball's post-season for the third consecutive year, and the fourth in eight (I'm tempted to say the fifth in eight, since we did have that Game 163 thing with the Twins in '09, which sure seemed like a post-season game to me, but the baseball purists are adamant that things don't work that way, and it doesn't count.  So, PPPHHHLLLBBBTTT!!!!).  Anyway, Woo-hoo!  Honestly, the Tiges have never had such a sustained run of prosperity in my lifetime.  They've typically had one monster year (say, 1968, or 1984), followed a couple years later by a lesser, 'aftershock'-type season (eg, 1972, 1987) where the old gang manages to wring out one last bit of glory before they all retire en masse (or, you know, sign with the Dodgers as free agents).  But four post-seasons, and two World Series, in eight years?  Be still, my heart!  You'd have to go back to the Ty Cobb days of 1907-08-09 to find another Tiger team that played beyond the regular season for three years in a row (of course, in those days, all they had was the World Series, so that seems like a bigger deal than this, but I wasn't around in those days, so I wouldn't know) (hard as that may be for some of you to believe).  Or the Hank Greenberg - Charley Gehringer days, when they made four World Series in twelve years between 1934-45.


Incidentally, the 1908 Tigers are the last team to lose a World Series to the Chicago Cubs (the Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance Cubs, among whose pitching staff were Three-Finger Brown and Orval Overall), and the '45 Tigers are the last team to play the Cubs in a World Series.  Which, given the way Cubs fans go on and on about their team and post-season futility, seems like it must be a big deal, somehow or other.


This year's Tigers began the season with great expectations, and by-and-large, they met them, although it never seemed to be quite as straightforward as it was supposed to be.  The team is headlined by the splendid Miguel Cabrera, last year's Triple Crown winner and American League Most Valuable Player, who was still in the hunt for a second consecutive Triple Crown (which, baseball types are well aware, is simply ridiculous) at the end of August, by which time nagging injuries wore him down, and he had to settle for just winning the American League batting and slugging titles (although a second consecutive MVP is very much a live possibility).  Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, along with Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson, made major offensive contributions (not that anyone was offended by their contributions; it's just that, you know, the batting and scoring-runs part of the game is called 'offense'. . . never mind).  And mid-season, they picked up Jose Iglesias from Suldog's Red Sawx, to provide wizardly defense (because the guy who played the first two-thirds of the season at shortstop, Jhonny Peralta (yes, I know the 'h' and the 'o' are transposed; take it up with his mother), managed to get himself suspended for 50 games for using illegal Performance-Enhancing Drugs) (*sigh*)

The real strength of this Tigers team is its starting pitching.  Justin Verlander is a former Cy Young award-winner, finished second in the voting last year, and he was no better than the third best of our five starting pitchers this season.  Max Scherzer might well win this season's Cy Young award, and Anibal Sanchez led the American League in Earned Run Average.  Doug Fister would be a solid #2 starter on most other teams, and Rick Porcello, still only 24, had the best of his five seasons in the big leagues so far.

All that being said, this is not a flawless baseball team.  Our relief pitching was an area of concern all year, though it did get stronger toward the end of the season.  And for all the big bats in our lineup, we were prone to maddening scoring droughts.  I think that we led the majors in losses in which our starting pitchers gave up 1 run or less.

So, who knows what lies ahead?  Another World Series would be wonderful, but I take nothing for granted.  Just based on how the season has gone, I can see us winning it all, or I can see us getting swept out by the A's in the Division Series, possibly scoring less than a run a game.  But one way or another, I am simply enjoying the ride, for the third year in a row.  I'm not used to this.  But I admit, I could get to like it. . .

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves. . .

OK, sometimes, I draw a post from comments I leave on other blogs.  And sometimes, (at least this once, anyway), I'll leave a responsive comment to someone else's comment on one of my own posts, that really deserves to be a post in its own right.  A while back, I posted about a bizarre incident with my previous employer, in which an obscure (and irrelevant) corporate policy ended up trumping an opportunity to hire the single, ideal candidate for a position.  My friend Suldog left a comment, which poked my perfervid brain for three more stories under the loose heading of 'Personnel Follies' (it seems that, just lately, I'm calling up a lot of old 'Work Stories', of which I haven't had many over the years; whatever).  I hesitate to bid you 'enjoy', as all three of them are more like 'frustrating', or 'maddening', than 'enjoyable', but, you know. . .


When I hired in to my first real engineering job, fresh out of college, I came into an engineering department that was a little unique, in that we had a clear and stark demographic split.  The company was in the midst of a hiring boom, with several of us young engineers who had just gotten our degrees in the previous 2-3 years, and a group of older guys around my dad's age (in fact, one of the guys, who quickly became a good friend, was the father of a girl I'd known in college).  For the most part, it was a very happy combination, and I was happy to learn from the practical experience of engineers who had been working for years, and had that practical sense of what works, and what doesn't, and what you need to pay particular attention to, even if they weren't up-to-speed on the latest-and-greatest hot methods and techniques that I'd seen in school.  They were smart, solid, competent guys, and I learned a lot from them.

A few of the older guys didn't actually have engineering degrees, but had worked as engineers for years. They weren't doing anything that particularly required a degree - mainly just pushing papers (though I hasten to say that I do not mean that in the least to denigrate any of them). At a certain point, the company adopted a policy that they would only hire degreed engineers, which is understandable enough, and the older guys who'd been doing the job for years got grandfathered.  It was understood that there were some things, involving more-than-thumbnail calculations, that the older, non-degreed guys weren't going to do, and nobody cared.

Then, some (no doubt very zealous) HR guy decided that we were no longer gonna have ANY non-degreed engineers (which, I understand, was probably more about PR to our customers than anything else), and anyone without a degree had two years to get one, or be 'reassigned'. So you had two or three guys who'd done their jobs, and done them capably, for many years, suddenly scrambling to get a diploma from Aunt Zelda's Mail-Order Engineering Night School, just so they could keep their jobs.  When they should have been planning for their retirement, and time with their grandchildren, suddenly all their free time was diverted into going back to school, with all the attendant anxiety that their livelihood might be yanked away from them.



In the same previous post, I mentioned our whiz-bang new CAD system, of which we were justly proud.  When it was first installed, there was the matter of getting everyone trained, so we could start getting the bang for all the bucks we'd spent on it. When the training plan was assembled, among the very first group of trainees was a 62-year-old draftsman, who had already announced that he was retiring in six months.  He was one of our best draftsmen, and his skill shone through every drawing he crafted.  His lines were crisp, and his lettering beautiful, and he never missed a dimension.  But he was 62, and retiring in six months.  Old dogs and new tricks, and all that (which, I hasten to be clear, is not to denigrate him in the least)

There was absolutely NO need to train this poor guy at all.  He could have gone his last six months at his drafting board, doing exactly what he'd done, and done well, for the previous 40 years, and the company would still have benefitted from his talent and skill.  But, no. . . EVERYBODY was gonna get trained in the new CAD system, so he had to go to the front of the line, so he could get trained before he got away (no doubt, someone had made promises to top management about how many people they would train, so they couldn't have people retiring on them without getting trained, if they were gonna meet that headcount).  So the poor guy got to spend his final months with the company in stress and anxiety, struggling with the new-fangled computer thingy that only barely made sense to him, and which he couldn't hope to master in the time he had left.  And the hell of it was, the training schedule went more than six months out; it would have cost nothing to just let him skip it.

(I won't even mention how pissed my boss was that I had the nerve to schedule my wedding and honeymoon - six months before the fact, mind you, while the CAD system was still very much in its planning stages, and no-one was thinking about training schedules yet - in conflict with my own slot in the training schedule, causing my training to be delayed by two whole weeks; 'cuz, you know, if I were a really dedicated employee, I'd have gladly put off my honeymoon for the opportunity to get trained right away, right? . . .)

(BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA (*snort, cough*). . . I'm sorry. . . HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. . . OK, better now. . . (*snicker, chortle*). . . heehee. . . )


The third (and, for purposes of this post, final) story is about the guy who came to us a couple months past his 60th birthday, when the company across town that he'd worked for all his life went under, and the owner absconded to the Cayman Islands with the pension fund. So he came to work for us.

Now, in those days, we had to work for ten years in order to get our pension vested, so his goal was to work for ten years, in order to get such meager pension as he could from our company, since the one he'd planned on was gone.  But six months before he was due to retire, someone instituted a policy establishing 70 as the mandatory retirement age, period, end of story, no exceptions. And the new policy affected exactly one person in the entire company.  This guy - this ONE GUY - was forced to retire a couple months before he could get his pension vested. It was like they put in the new policy to save one single bare-minimum pension.  Or, put another way, to screw this one particular guy, who had already worked for 9.8 years, right up to his 70th birthday, just to try to get that pittance of a pension.

Some things just cry out for justice. . .


As I read this over again, I am struck by the fact that all three stories relate to people at or near retirement age, and the end of their careers.  And then I think that I am less than a decade from my own 65th birthday, with my own anxieties as to whether or not I'll be allowed to actually, you know, retire (at least, on my own terms), and what my finances will look like when I do. . .

In the immortal words of Alfred E. Newman: What, Me Worry?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Remembering Hub

This is the first of a pair of posts on my first 'real job', after I finished all my schooling.  For some strange reason, my brain has been poked to remember various stories from the early years of my career (mostly by reading your blogs, or your comments on mine).  Anyway, I hope you enjoy. . .


When I took my first job, fresh out of college, I went to work for a wheel company here in the town where I have lived ever since (and right next door to the town where the college was located).  I will forego retelling yet another time the standard joke about wheels and engineering and 'making 'em round', or the one about re-inventing the wheel. . .

It was a good job, and surprisingly interesting, what for being a small-to-midsize automotive supplier company.  We had some very bright, and very interesting folks populating our engineering department in those days (including a guy who would later be my boss, who was a collector of antique bicycles; more than once, I went on rides with him, with him riding an 1890s-vintage high-wheeler; but, I digress), although you might not have suspected it, at first glance.

Our engineering office was carved out of the front third-or-so of a pole-barn which was sort-of 'out-the-back-door-and-across-the-railroad-tracks' from the main company offices.  And even those fancy 'front-door' offices had a distinct 50s-era feel to them.

The back two-thirds of the 'engineering building' was mostly a test lab, filled with various and sundry test equipment, which ran more-or-less continuously, to provide validation for our engineering designs.  One of the more, um, noteworthy test machines was colloquially referred to as the 'bullwheel' machine.  Conceptually, it was quite simple - a wheel, with a tire mounted on it, was fixed to an axle and pressed into a rotating drum at a load and inflation much higher than it would ever see from being installed on a vehicle.  The idea was that, if the wheel could endure x-number of revolutions at the increased load, it would never fail in normal road usage.  Bullwheels came in two sizes - passenger-car and heavy-truck.

The, uh, exciting feature of the bullwheel machines were the tires that were mounted on the wheels which were the actual objects being tested.  The tires were just part of the test fixture, so to speak; just a means of transferring the load between the drum and the wheel.  And, in the course of running those wheels through a million or more revolutions (just for reference - for a passenger car, 1000 revolutions per mile is a nice round estimate) at an increased load and over-inflated, those tires, which were generally 'factory rejects' from the tire factories, would, from time to time, explode, rather like a very stout balloon that has been squeezed one too many times.  And you can believe that, when a tire explodes, it makes a considerable noise (or, as we would say, in technical engineering language, 'a helluva bang').  Especially the heavy-truck tires.

(An aside - one of the first things they had me do, after I hired in, was to run a calculation on a heavy-truck tire, mounted on a 'split-ring-type' wheel.  They showed me where to look up the dimensions of the tire and wheel, and told me what pressure the tire was inflated to.  The question was: 'If the tire/wheel is lying flat on the ground, and the split-ring is improperly installed, if the tire blows out, how high in the air will the split ring fly?'  I ran through the calculations, made some assumptions about how much of the stored energy from the inflated tire was actually transferred into the flying split-ring, and found the answer, which was somewhere above 200 feet.  Which was the right answer, so they let me keep my job.  No, the real point was: be very, very careful around split-ring truck wheels; if an improperly-installed split-ring, weighing roughly 50lb., will fly 200 feet into the air when it blows, your head won't slow it down all that much if it gets in the way.  Impression duly made.)

Now, when I first started working there, the 'engineering computer system' consisted of a small HP computer in a rack (I'm not sure, but it's possible my graphing calculator has more compute-power than it did), with a few peripherals, like a magnetic-cartridge reader, and a paper-tape reader.  The 'computer room' was a glorified storeroom off the end of the engineering office, which was separated from the test lab by a relatively thin wall.  One evening, I was working late, on a project that had considerable, um, urgency from corporate higher-ups.  I was deeply dialed-in to my computer screen and the task at hand, and my conceptual universe had shrunken to a small tube between my face and the screen.  Suddenly, on the other side of the wall, a tire blew on one of the heavy-truck bullwheels.  It was a tremendous explosion - to liken it to a cannon going off would not be inapt (see above re 'a helluva bang') - and it happened maybe 12 feet from where I was sitting, on the other side of the thin wall (did I mention that the wall was really thin?).  I don't remember exactly what I was working on at the time, but every nerve in my entire body was instantly frayed.  I sat there for a few minutes, my body buzzing and quite literally trembling.  Finally, I managed to collect myself enough to save the files I'd been working on, turn off the computer, and go home. . .

Another time, we had a computer consultant - most probably from Xavier's former employer - in the office for a week or so, and the big-truck bullwheel blew while he was deeply focused on his computer screen.  Slowly, he pushed away from the desk, turned and looked at us, and asked, "Does that happen often?"  We assured him that it wasn't all that common, no more often than every two or three days.  Since he was going to be spending a week with us, I'm not sure he took that information as comforting.


But that's not really what I set out to tell you all about (although it does a nice job of 'setting the scene' or providing a bit of background color).  Recently, I received an email from one of my old co-workers from there (there was a whole group of us who all hired in together within a couple years of each other, in the late 70s; we still keep in touch, and even have annual reunions).  I'm not sure exactly what jogged his memory, but somewhere in his email, he made mention of a man we all called 'Hub' (because his last name was 'Hubbard', although, when you think about it, it was kinda cool that he worked for a wheel company) (another aside - there was another guy, surnamed Tuttle, who was simply called 'Tut'; I'm not sure anyone knew his first name - in inter-office memos, and the employee newsletter, he was referred to as 'Tut Tuttle') (If anyone is inclined to compile a list of surnames whose first syllables could be humorous nicknames, you have my blessing, and obviously, WAAAYYY too much time on your hands.) (and I obviously need to learn a little self-control when it comes to the proper used of parentheses).

Hub was one of the more, um, eccentric people I've ever met.  By the time I started working there, he was already in his 70s, and had been mostly-retired for several years.  But the company still provided him with a small lab, off the back door of the engineering office, to which he would come at more-or-less random intervals, a few times a week, to tinker.  It was understood that no-one went into Hub's lab unless invited by Hub himself, and it was the object of considerable speculation among the younger engineers as to what, exactly, was in Hub's lab, and what, exactly, he did in there.  The older guys had known him for years, and regarded him as something like their beloved crazy uncle.

Hub was an inventor.  I don't know how many patents he may have held, but it was quite a few - he was a fixture at the company's annual Patent Luncheon.  I know that he had several patents relating to electronic controls.  He was one of those edisonian 'creative-genius-types' who just thought stuff up, and tinkered in his lab to try to turn his ideas into real machinery, while the company pretty much left him alone, except to gather a group whenever he emerged from his lab, saying he had something he wanted to show us.

In person, Hub was every bit the eccentric genius.  His speech was nearly unintelligible, mostly because of his fondness for cigars; he wouldn't remove his cigar from his mouth just because he had something to say.

The cigars also figured into my own most, uh, endearingly oddball memory of him.  I was talking to him one time, and I noticed that his two front teeth stood almost straight out from his upper jawbone, like a pair of knife-edges, perpendicular to the 'plane' of his face, in a small 'upside-down-V' shape, almost like a tunnel.  I thought it odd, and later mentioned it to one of the older guys (probably Tut).  He said, "Oh, those are his false teeth.  He made them himself."  He made his own false teeth?  "Yeah; he couldn't find anybody that would make 'em the way he wanted 'em, so he taught himself how to make his own."  Wow, cool!  "Yeah, he made the front teeth stand out like that to hold his cigars."

After I'd been with the company for a year or so, the day finally came when Hub approached me at the coffee station one afternoon, saying, "Come with me" (at least, I think that's what he said).  I don't know what else I was working on at the time, but whatever it was, it was instantly on hold for the next however-long-it-took.  Hub took me through the back door of the engineering office, down a hallway heading toward the test lab, to the mysterious door with the small sign telling the curious that admittance was only by invitation of H. Hubbard.  He opened the door and ushered me inside.

Hub's lab was surprisingly small - maybe 12 feet square - and utterly dark, except for a single high-intensity lamp which lit the area he was immediately working at.  The walls were surrounded by lab benches, which in turn were all covered with assorted gadgetry and components.  I wish to heck I could remember what-all he showed me - it was a mix of some of his favorite inventions from bygone years, and some of his current pet projects, and it was all fascinating.  The tour of his lab lasted maybe 20 minutes or half-an-hour, and it left both Hub and me beaming by the time it was finished.  I thanked him profusely and returned to the real world of my mundane projects.

Hub died a few years later, and I'm told that his house was also full of odd little gadgets of his own design and manufacture.  I don't know what ever became of the contents of his lab; it wasn't long after he died that we moved to a new, fancy-modern office building on the edge of town (with freeway visibility), and I only went back to the old pole-barn a few times after that.  As I write this, I'm not even sure the building still stands.

But I've never forgotten Hub, and I'd like to think that he has inspired me ever since, to expand my conceptual universe just a bit, to be creative and think 'outside the box' from time to time. . .

Monday, July 15, 2013

Through the Years. . .

Went Up North a couple weekends ago, to my hometown of Alpena, for my 40th-anniversary class reunion (just for the record, I am nowhere near old enough for it to have been 40 years since I graduated from high school; actually, I graduated while I was still in utero).  What a wonderful time!  We all (at least, everyone I talked to) (even the two women who showed up rocking a serious 80s-era spiked-hair-and-eyebrow-piercings punk look) just had a great time catching up on where we've been and what we've been up for the past few decades.

Alpena is a somewhat different place than it was when I lived there.  They actually have a Taco Bell there now, whereas in my day, I had to go to the big university downstate to have my first actual taco.  And there's a mall on the edge of town now, which houses all the stores that used to be downtown.  Downtown, on the other hand, has taken on a decidedly touristy/artisan feel.  We dropped in on a T-shirt shop (one of my favorites pronounced, "Lake Huron: Unsalted and Shark-Free"), and a local wine shop, selling locally-grown-and-produced wines.  In my day, we barely knew what Boone's Farm was, much less a late-harvest Riesling, and now there's a vineyard down by Ossineke, fer heaven's sake.  But the miniature-golf place is still there, down by the beach, and Jen and I played a nostalgic round (well, it was nostalgic for me); I shot four-over-par, which ain't too bad for playing the course no more often than once a decade. . .

The proceedings started with an informal picnic Friday night.  The 'informal' part meant that there were no name-tags, so, at least early on, there was a lot of staring at faces, trying to place this or that familiar feature, until the person finally had mercy and told you who they were (of course, many of us were accompanied by our spouses, and one smart-aleck said that they should have had tags saying, "Stop staring; I'm a spouse").

As I said, we had a really great time catching up on the last few decades; we hadn't had a reunion since the 25th, so many of us were seeing each other for the first time in at least 15 years (and I wanna tell ya, the difference between 43-year-olds and 58-year-olds is a significant one).  One of my best buds from high school came for the first time since the 10-year reunion, and it was just great to see him; he won the prize for who came the farthest to the 10-year reunion, because he was deported from South Africa the week before the reunion.

Of course, I have several friends with whom I've been at least somewhat in touch ever since graduation, but there are a few of my classmates with whom I've become better friends over the past four decades than we ever were in school, which is kinda cool.

So yeah, we had a great time.  Maybe I just have a really great class; lots of my friends have no interest in going to their class reunions, or if they've gone to one, they were put off from ever going back.  But I've gone to all of mine, and had a wonderful time at every one of them. . .


Jen's brother got married for the second time last weekend, at a park over in Port Huron.  The county judge who performed the ceremony was a tall, somewhat severe-looking woman, who looked very stately in her robe.  At one point, she moved her leg just so, and I espied what looked like an ankle-bracelet.  I mentioned the ankle-bracelet to Jen's brother later, and he just laughed, saying, "Uh, no. . . that would be her electronic tether; she's been convicted of DUI three times, but she still manages to keep getting re-elected. . ."

A judge with an electronic tether. . . Only in America. . .

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Connections Through Time. . .

"The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even, by reason of strength, fourscore. . ."

So says the 90th Psalm, and fair enough, I suppose.  Although, I admit, being 57 just at the moment, and recalling having been 44 just the day before yesterday, the 13 years left between me and my threescore-and-ten seem pretty much like the-day-after-tomorrow.  And those 13 years are by no means guaranteed; my high school class will be holding its 40th anniversary class reunion this summer, and the number of my classmates who haven't lived to see it is distressingly large.  70 just doesn't seem nearly as old as it once did. . .

I was thinking about my dad recently, as I do from time to time, especially on Father's Day (and tomorrow would have been his 91st birthday), and it not yet being two years since he died.  I got to thinking about my ancestry more generally, and I had a thought that utterly fascinated me (but then, I get fascinated by weird stuff sometimes).  Virtually all of us have known our parents, and these days, most of us have known and had relationships with our grandparents.  So far, so good, right?  Now, turning it around to the other direction, many of us have children, and the vast majority of those of us with children have known and had relationships with them, although that is not quite as guaranteed as we might wish it to be.  And then again, if we are fortunate, we will also know and have relationships with our grandchildren, as well.  Some few of us will even be fortunate enough to have known a great-grandparent or two, and some few of us might be fortunate enough to know a few of our great-grandchildren.  But, on average, two generations in either direction seems pretty 'nominal'.

So, my dad having died just recently, I got to thinking about his grandfather.  Dad had certainly known his grandfather, who died in 1944, when Dad was in his early 20s (and, alas, twelve years before my own auspicious arrival).  My great-grandfather, Egbert (for whom I was very nearly named; narrow escape, right there) was born in 1866.  His grandfather, Jacob, died in 1875.  I don't know if they ever knew, or even met each other, since Egbert was born in Indiana and came to Michigan as a boy, whereas Jacob lived his entire life in upstate New York (not far from Cooperstown, in Otsego County).  But their lives overlapped by nine years, and they certainly could have met each other.  Jacob was born in 1812.

So Egbert spent 78 years living on the face of this earth.  Squarely inside the biblical brackets.  But between his grandfather, whom he at least might have known, and my dad, his grandson, whom he did know, the span of his life's connections is stretched to within a year of two full centuries.  And I'm sure, if I look at all of my dad's grandparents and their grandparents, somewhere in there, the two-century mark will have been surpassed.  Which is a heck of a lot more than threescore-and-ten, and, in a lot of ways, seems a truer representation of the significance of our lives on this earth. . .

And even besides biological/familial connections, I think of the elders - teachers, coaches, family friends, etc, etc - who enriched my formative years, and I am coming into my own set of young friends my kids' age, or even younger.  And I wonder how far into the past those relationships reach, and God only knows how far into the future.

Fascinating. . .

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Eight Is Enough (That's What She Said). . .

Now, don't anyone get too terribly excited to see a fresh post here at The Yard.  My 'parameters' really haven't changed since my 'farewell' post a couple months ago.  But, I had a few posts 'in the hopper' when I said goodbye, and I've more-or-less decided that the World would benefit from my going ahead and actually, you know, posting them.  So, I'll dribble them out over the next few months, and we'll see what the World looks like after that. . .


8M is just about to finish 5th grade, and thereby, his tutelage under the estimable Mrs. Jackson.  Mrs. Jackson holds a unique position in the life of our family.  All of our kids have attended the same Catholic parish school, from kindergarten through 8th grade (well, 8M has only gotten to 5th grade so far, but he's a bright lad, and I have every confidence in him).

And Mrs. Jackson has taught them all.  In the 25 years of our association with the school, every other teacher has come and gone, some of them more than once.  But only Mrs. Jackson has taught all eight of our kids, beginning with 1F's 4th grade year in 1992-93.  She was actually a first-grade teacher in 1F's first-grade year, but that year, there were two first-grade classes, and 1F was in the other one.  By the time 1F got to 4th grade, Mrs. Jackson had moved to 4th grade, and she taught 4th grade to all of our kids.  7M actually had her for two years, since she moved from 4th grade to 5th the same time he did.  And now she's taught 8M, completing the set, the first, and most likely only, member of that club (there is another woman, who has taught middle-school literature to our first seven kids; she wasn't on the staff this past year, but I'm told she would love to return, so that book has not been finally and definitively closed, just yet; we shall see).  Not, you know, that it's such a great honor as all that. . .

She hasn't tended to be the most beloved of all the teachers at the school.  She has a straightforward, no-nonsense demeanor that can be intimidating or off-putting, until you get to know her.  And you can believe me, that, her having taught all eight of our children, we've had no lack of opportunity to get to know her.  Even so, it was apparent to Jen and me early on that, whatever the qualities of her personality, she was a teacher of rare ability, who often saw things in our kids that we had only vaguely noticed, and she helped us to deal constructively with some problems we had struggled with.  She is a rare gem of a teacher, and we have been fortunate, indeed, to have benefitted from her influence.

Jen asked all our kids to write a single sentence describing their experience of Mrs. Jackson, which we will present to her as a token of our gratitude.  I reproduce those brief encomia herewith:

1F - "She was my favorite teacher, because she encouraged creativity and critical thinking."

2F - "When she corrected me, she did it in a way that made me feel better about myself, without softening the correction."

3M - "We disliked each other strongly; yet, after A YEAR together, she still found it in her heart to not only continue teaching, but to go through 5 MORE of my siblings!  That is the epitome of dedication to one's craft."

4M - "The first (only?) teacher to connect my Religion grade with my actual behavior - 'Do you behave like a Christian?'"

5M - "She helped immensely with my social development by alerting me to personal hygiene issues."

6F - "She cared about my emotional well-being at a time when our family was going through extreme trauma. But she didn't baby me; I still had to behave."

7M - "She was probably the best teacher I ever had.  I just didn't know it at the time.  She deserves an award for having to deal with all of us. . ."

8M - "She put up with my ADD, and helped me learn a lot even in spite of it."

So, thank you, Mrs. Jackson.  You've been a boon to our family.  You're one in a million. . .

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Time Has Come, the Walrus Said. . .

. . . for me to step away from blogging.  Again (and those of you who have known me from the beginning, or close to it, back in May 2006, will be forgiven for saying, "Yeah, we've heard that before").  It's been a pretty long, sustained run this time, over 4-1/2 years, from June 2008 until today, with a quick break to change blogs and blog-o-nyms at the end of 2009.

Alas, the Real World is pressing its claims on my life, and I just need to clear my head and readjust my priorities real-ward.

I don't know if or when I'll be back; as of this minute, I don't have any plans, one way or the other.  Perhaps I'll still visit your blogs and leave an occasional comment, but I can't promise that I will.  If it turns out that I never do return, please allow me to say that I have enjoyed every one of you that I've met (or, I should probably rather say, 'met', in finger-quotes) here in blog-space.  You are some wonderful folks, and I have enjoyed such friendship as we've shared, for never having laid actual, physical eyes on each other.  If I should ever happen to be in any of your neighborhoods, perhaps we can get together for a suitably convivial beverage.

Until we meet again.  It's been a blast.

Blessings to you all. . .

Heartbreak Is Part of the Deal. . .

OK, I promised that if/when I ever stop blogging, I'd leave this post at the top of the page, just in case anyone comes back here from time to time, this is what they'd see. . .

If I may say so myself, this is about the most important thing that I'll ever say in this humble blog.  So there.

This post runs parallel to something I posted four-and-a-half years ago.  It's not really a re-post, but the thoughts are pretty similar (that older post is pretty good in its own right, maybe even better than this one; go ahead and read it, too, if you're so inclined). . .


Over the course of my 30-or-so years of parenthood, I have come to the conclusion that parenthood is, by its very nature, inherently heart-breaking.

That is not, by any means, to adopt a cynical or 'woe-is-me' attitude to the biggest, best, and noblest thing I've done with my life thus far (however poorly I've actually done it; and the empirical evidence is pretty damning).  It is to say that, one way or another, our kids will, inevitably, disappoint us; sometimes crushingly so.  And that the heartbreak of parenting is one of the main ways that we fulfil what Mother Theresa liked to refer to as 'our main task in this life' - 'to learn what it really means to love'.

When my kids were born, I held such high hopes and dreams for them.  Not, to be sure, that I had 'The Plan' for their lives, or anything like that.  I actually looked forward to the adventure of finding out who they were, and what amazing and wonderful traits they would blend from Jen and me into their own, unique selves, and what traits of theirs might go off in some entirely unforeseen directions.

And it has been wonderful to see all their lives unfold.  Several of our kids are very musical - 1F, 3M and 7M perhaps most especially.  3M, 7M and 8M are near-genius bright.  4M and 6F are both hard-working and good-looking, and 4M is a star athlete (sometimes I wonder how this kid ever came from me; Jen assures me that he did).  1F, 2F and 5M are all very kind and compassionate.  And so it goes.

But our kids, being, alas, human (wait, that doesn't sound right; I'm really, really glad that they aren't newts, or tapeworms, or whatever), are subject to the effects of The Fall, just like Jen and I are (well, I know that I am; I'm pretty sure that she is, too).  And therein lie the seeds of heartbreak.  In our early years of parenthood, we hoped to raise a family of kids who were better than we were - with all our strengths (which we were just arrogant enough to think were considerable), but none (or at least, not so many) of our weaknesses.  We hoped that they would be smart, strong, wise, virtuous, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent, without all that nagging selfishness and venality.  Because, of course, we were better than our own parents had been, right?  (Well, of course not; but we thought we were.  It's a Boomer thing.)  And we would just impart our own superior wisdom, virtue, etc. to our kids, and all would be well.  Right?


When 1F was in her teens, people used to congratulate us for having raised such a wonderful young woman. And I (perhaps inspired by a salutary humility; or perhaps merely prophesying a glimpse of the future) used to reply that it wasn't really wonderful teenagers I was after, but rather capable, wise and virtuous adults. And it wasn't too many years before my own words were borne out, to my own chagrin.

Back in the days when our older kids were passing through middle school, the Religion teacher (if that strikes your ear as a trifle odd, it's a Catholic school thing. . .) was a very wise woman, who became a good friend.  In the course of a, uh, conversation we were having about one of our kids, who was proving to be a tad more intractable than we had planned on (but which didn't seem to faze her all that much), she told us, with a wistful maternal smile, that the day would inevitably come when we would find ourselves talking to the police about one of our children (and not necessarily the one we were discussing at the time); that it had happened to her, and that it happened to most parents sooner or later, no matter how earnest or capable they were, and that we shouldn't freak out when it did.  And Jen and I both shook our heads inwardly, certain in our own minds that her words were ridiculous, that such a thing would never happen to parents as conscientious as we were.

Such touching naivete, right?

It wasn't that many years later (distressingly few, in fact) that one of our kids (I'll decline to say which one) threw back at us, as I was retrieving him from a night in jail, that all of our kids down to him had now had run-ins with the police, and that, as far as he was concerned, that constituted slam-dunk definitive empirical proof that we were simply, utterly, execrable parents (OK, he didn't use the word 'execrable', but he used one of its synonyms).  In the years since then, that flawless record has been extended by a few kids younger than him.

I have written elsewhere of some of the youthful (or even not-so-youthful) misadventures of our older kids.  I won't rehash them for you here (and I think I've mostly taken those posts down from my old blog), but trust me when I say that we were utterly, absolutely flabbergasted.  We'd said and done all the right things, as best we could see, and as best we were able (well, you know, aside from a certain proclivity to outbursts of temper, and a few (*ahem*) minor character flaws on that order; but God understands our weakness, right?), and it hadn't been enough.  And I can tell you that it hasn't ended with them; our younger kids have made their own significant contributions to the broken-ness of our hearts

It slowly dawned on us (perhaps a good bit more slowly than it should have, but both Jen and I had been 'good kids', so our own experience had left us a tad ill-equipped to deal with kids who were less 'with the program' than we'd been) that God, in his wisdom, had blessed our children, just as he'd blessed us, with Free Will (what He was thinking when He did that, I've had occasion to wonder).  And that, our own earnestness and sincerity notwithstanding, our kids, even though made, as we were, in the Image and Likeness of God, were also, as we were, subject to the effects of The Fall, and capable of the same sorts of jaw-dropping venality we were; sometimes, even moreso.  Even astoundingly moreso.

Taken all together, in the fullness of time it became an occasion of deeper insight into what it means to be human, to carry simultaneously within ourselves, and virtually side-by-side, both significant markers of divinity, and appalling selfishness and venality.  And to learn, on a deep, down-and-dirty level, what Jesus was talking about when he said (in so many words) that the measure of love isn't how you treat agreeable, congenial people, but rather, in how you deal with (as Thomas a Kempis called them in The Imitation of Christ) "hard, obstinate and undisciplined people".  Which is to say, people like our kids.  At least, some of the time (distressingly much of it, to be brutally candid).  Put another way - it's not the absence of heartbreak, or disappointment, that makes our lives successful, it's what we DO with the heartbreak that will, inevitably, come into our lives – can we let “love cover a multitude of sins”, or not?

So yeah - heartbreak is part of the deal.  Our kids will never be as perfect as we wish they were, and their flaws will be all-too-evident (and the ones they've picked up from us will be duly galling).  But somewhere along the way, we'll have made progress toward what Mother Theresa was talking about, learning 'what it really means to love'. . .


And. . . heartbreak. . .  I pre-posted this a couple weeks ago, before the events of this past Friday in Connecticut, which make my concerns seem. . . small.  My heart breaks in two for all the families who will have gaping, bleeding holes in their hearts, and around their tables, where their children - their little children - or their parents, or their siblings, or their spouses, should have been this Christmas.  I just can't grasp the brutal cruelty of it.  Please join me in praying for them, and the entire community there. . .

GK Chesterton once said that, of all the doctrines of Christianity, none would seem to be more empirically obvious than that of the fallen-ness of human nature.  How I wish that were even a little bit less true. . .

And then this - Jimmy Greene, whose six-year-old daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, was among the slain, said, out of his grief, that "Ana beat us to Paradise."  That father, whose heart is certainly broken in two, is my hero today.  You get it, sir. . . you really do. . .

O Lord, have mercy. . .

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Place Names in Michigan

I was born in Michigan, and I have lived virtually my entire life here.  At one time or another, I've traveled to just about every corner of my native state.  I'm sure that your states have some pretty fun place names, too (I'm thinking of one small town in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in particular) (also Pee Pee Creek, and its eponymous township, in Pike County, Ohio), but here's a sampler from where I live. . .


In Michigan, we have both a Hell and a Paradise.  In Hell, there is, as you might suspect, a bar (called the Dam Site Inn, as it sits next to, you know, a dam), and a post-office/country store/gift shop (called The Handbasket), where you can buy a "We've Been Through Hell Together" bumper sticker, or a miniature baseball bat, bearing the inscription, "Genuine, Official Bat Out of Hell".  (Incidentally, the road into Hell from the east is named Darwin Road; just sayin'. . .)  On the other hand, Jen and I spent a night in Paradise on our honeymoon (really! It's the closest town to Tahquamenon Falls) (that's ta-KWA-ma-non). . .

We have both a Romulus and a Remus, which are pretty much the polar opposite of twin cities, even aside from the fact that they're 150 miles apart.  Romulus is the home of Detroit / Wayne County Metropolitan Airport; Remus is the post office (and that's just about all there is there) closest to the farm where my dad grew up. . .

And not far from Remus is Mount Pleasant, which sits on some of the flattest land in the state of Michigan.  Some years ago, there was a waggish bumper sticker proclaiming, "I Climbed Mount Pleasant". . .

Then there's Needmore; I've been there, and they do. . .

And Maybee; or, you know, Maybee not. . .

And speaking of bees, way Up North, there's a tiny village called Topinabee; go ahead, guess how to say it, I'll wait. . .  It's top-in-a-BEE. . .

Then there's Paw Paw, which is not far from Kalamazoo, about which more below.  As it turns out, it's actually named for the pawpaw fruit which was abundant in the area, once upon a time.  Nowadays, it's more-or-less the center of Michigan's southern wine region, besides having a cute name.  (And hey, we've got Paw Paw, Ohio's got Pee Pee; anybody care to raise their hand for Poo Poo?)

Michgan's 'Thumb' is home to a couple of my favorites: Bad Axe (which is, you know, a pretty BA name for a town) and Ubly.  I understand what a bad axe is, as opposed to a good one; I'm just not sure I'd name a town after one.  And then, I imagine the cheerleading squad from Ubly High chanting, "U - B - L - Y, We ain't got no alibi, we're Ubly!"  And I wonder if the winner of the local beauty pageant might really be called 'Miss Ubly'. . .

Also in Michigan's Thumb is the village of Yale, pronounced just like the Ivy League university, which hosts the annual Bologna Festival, and elects a Bologna Queen to preside over the festivities. . .


Native-American-derived place names can be an ongoing fount of amusement, for folks whose minds twist that way -

Of course, as I promised, there's Kalamazoo - When I was in college, there was a guy from New Jersey who lived on my dorm floor, who went through most of the fall term insisting that Kalamazoo wasn't a real place, and someone had obviously made it up as a joke.  Finally, we introduced him to a guy who was, you know, actually FROM Kalamazoo. . .

And heck, even Michigan itself, which derives from the Ojibwa 'mitchee-gamee' which, in turn, is related to 'gitchee-gumee' (as in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha), meaning 'Big Water', which seems sufficiently self-evident. . .

Also the Manitou Islands, in northern Lake Michigan.

Then there's Muskegon (mus-KEE-gun) and Ontonagon (on-tuh-NOGgin), which, in spite of what they look like, really aren't geometric figures. . .

On the border between Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin lies the city of Menominee, which I can't say without imagining a cheesy chorus singing "doot-DOO-du-du-doo" in the background. . .

And of course, the aforementioned Tahquamenon Falls and Topinabee.  And even Saginaw, though I've never hitch-hiked there. . .

Also Wequetonsing (wek-weh-TAHN-sing), just because it sounds cool. . .


The French fur traders who roamed the Great Lakes region before the days of settled civilization bequeathed us with some place names that are wonderfully counter-intuitive to English-speakers -

Start with one with which you're probably all familiar - Sault Ste. Marie (known more coloquially as 'The Soo', which is pretty much a dead giveaway for how to pronounce the first French word in the name), meaning, 'St. Mary's Falls, since there is a long stretch of rapids in the St. Mary's River there, which, in the fullness of time, necessitated the digging of the Soo Locks.

There's Mackinac Island and the Straits of Mackinac, spanned by a majestic bridge bearing the same name.  The village on the south shore of the straits punted, and called themselves Mackinaw City, with a 'w'; I suppose, because they got tired of tourists from out-of-state calling them Mackin-ACK (somewhere, Billy Joel is singing, 'ack-ack-ack-ack-ack'). . .

Twenty miles or so east of the Straits of Mackinac is Bois Blanc Island ('white woods').  Which all the locals know is pronounced 'Bob-Lo'.

And Cadillac, which is in the opposite corner of the Lower Peninsula from where luxury cars are made. . .


We Michiganders (or Michiganians; I think it's still something of an open question) also seem to have a unique proclivity for 'mispronouncing' place names, particularly ones that have obviously been borrowed from other places and things whose pronunciation is well-established.  A few examples -

Lake Orion - Not The Hunter from your star chart; this one is pronounced ORRY-un.

Charlotte - The emPHAsis goes on the second sylLABle: sher-LOTT (some locals aren't very punctilious about the 'r', and it comes out more like 'sha-LOTT').  Once, when I was in college, there was a girl named Charlotte in one of my classes (pronounced in the usual way); one might think, given the large city in North Carolina, and the eponymous children's-story spider, that the pronunciation of her name might seem somewhat obvious, but the instructor kept calling her sher-LOTT, for the entire term. . .

Milan - Named after the city in Italy, right?  Maybe, but it's pronounced MY-lun. . .

Chesaning - Just look at it, and you think you know how to say it; but it's chess-NING

Pompeii - POMpey-eye; 'nuff said

And Durand - DOO-rand; I am not making any of this up.

Armada - Think of the Spanish fleet that sailed against England in the 1500s?  Try ar-MAY-da. . .

Mikado - In a similar vein, it's mi-KAY-doh

Argentine - the final syllable sounds like the points of a fork (I know, right?)

And, it's not the general, common, pronunciation, but I can't resist mentioning that my mother-in-law (who, I should also mention, I dearly love, and is the best MIL anyone could ever have) pronounces Lake Huron, and the city of Port Huron, at its southern terminus, not HYER-ahn (or maybe HYOO-rawn, if you affect a slightly snooty accent), like most of us do, but homophonically with 'urine' (dropping the leading 'H', and clipping the second syllable just a bit); sometimes the city comes out sounding like 'porch urine', like your dog had an accident.  I've not been above asking (teasingly) (very affectionately teasingly) if the water at the southern end of the lake had a yellowish hue, or what. . .


And finally, we come to my favorite river, the Tittabawassee River (pronounced pretty much how it looks: titta-ba-WAH-see); just because it's fun to say 'Tittabawassee'. . .

"Tittabawassee". . . heh. . .


And wow - yesterday got up to 60F around these parts (and Friday was in the 50s, so the snow was all gone).  I really wasn't feeling good.  At all.  I think I had some kind of very mild flu, or something; just kinda achy and lethargic.  But you don't get many 60-degree days in January around here, so I dragged the bike out of the basement and got out for 10 miles, just because.  Now, 10 miles is just barely enough to get out to the cornfields and wave before heading back into town.  But it's miles; real, live, outdoors-on-the-road miles (and it's odd, how 45 minutes on the road will wear me out WAY more than an hour on the stationary bike indoors).  And this is now the 23rd consecutive month in which I've had outdoor miles; the last time I flipped the page on the calendar without any outdoor miles was at the end of February 2011. . .

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Today is Epiphany, marking the end of the Season of Christmas (I'm never sure as to whether Christmas is the First Day of Christmas, or Epiphany is the Twelfth; not that it matters all that much. . .)  In some Christian traditions, mainly in the East, Epiphany, not Christmas, is the day for exchanging of gifts (after the example of the Magi, I suppose), and, at least in terms of public celebration, Epiphany is a bigger deal than Christmas is.

'Epiphany' means, literally, 'revelation' or 'manifestation'.  Jesus might have been born on Christmas, but Epiphany is when He 'went public', so to speak.  The readings for Epiphany rotate among the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:21-40), and Jesus' Baptism by John the Baptist (John 1:29-34).  All of which represent, in varying ways, Jesus being 'made manifest' to the world He came to save.

I have especially come to appreciate the story of the Magi, and what it represents.  There is a delightful irony in the fact that God, who forbade the Jews to practice astrology, gave the Magi a 'sign in the heavens', to announce the coming of His Son in the flesh to Gentiles.  Of course, God knew that the learned Gentiles would notice, and be impressed by such a sign, and He wasn't above letting them know, in a way they could comprehend, that something big was going down in Bethlehem, and they wouldn't want to miss it. . .  Put another way, the stars don't move us, God moves the stars. . .  And even today, I suppose, God leaves signs of Himself to be noticed, and understood by those 'who have eyes to see, and ears to hear', even among secular modern folks.

And, oh, to be Simeon, or John the Baptist, waiting to see the Promised One, the Desired of the Nations, and then finally to see and recognize Him.  I can understand Simeon saying, "Now, Lord, you can dismiss Your servant in peace". . . That was it; he was waiting to see the Messiah, and there He was.   Now, so to speak, old Simeon could die happy.  I have often wondered, if Jesus came today, would I recognize Him?  Would I have the eyes and ears to see and hear when He came among us?  Or would I be like those in Jesus' day who were so focused in on their own notions of 'what the Messiah will be like', or 'what God must be like', that they didn't recognize Him when He stood in their midst?

Oh, Lord, have mercy; let me have 'eyes to see, and ears to hear'. . .