Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Visitor From Beyond. . .

This Christmas, I'm re-posting a favorite old cartoon of mine, with a really cute take on the Incarnation. . .

If the SETI folks only knew. . .

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Deplore THIS!

Those of you who've followed my blog for a while know that I basically don't talk politics here.  I'm mostly of the opinion that most of my fellow-Americans, for a variety of reasons of their own, vastly overestimate the significance of politics, and its ability to affect their lives in meaningful ways.  Perhaps that's a quirk of my own, but I'm far more interested in the ways things like love, family and friendship work in my life, than I am in politics.  But I don't live in a vacuum, and there are strange doings afoot these days. . .


Holy crud!  I don't know how or when it happened, but we are clearly living in some sort of strange, Twilight-Zone alternate universe or something.  I mean, the evidence is there for anyone to see:

- Bob Dylan wins a Nobel Prize (which he himself doesn't even seem to accept)
- The Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA championship
- The Cubs win the World Series (and beat the Indians to do it)
- Donald Trump (I mean, Donald Freakin' Trump!!!) is elected President of the United States

What in the world is going on here?!?


Let me start by saying clearly what I've been saying all along (mostly in comments on other people's blogs) - I am not, and have never been, a Trump supporter; I did not vote for Donald Trump (the guy I did vote for was so far off the radar that I haven't even been able to find anywhere how many votes he actually received; so no, you probably haven't heard of him).  I regarded both of the major candidates in this election as catastrophic in one way or another.  So please, don't take this as any kind of gloating on my part, because it isn't.  I am just as concerned about the future of our country as I was before the election, and I wonder what the future holds for all of us, not least for me and my family.

I will admit, however, to a certain measure of schadenfreude at the discomfiture of my friends on the left (I'll probably end up taking that to confession someday soon, sinful man that I am) (and yes, I do have friends on the left). . .


I went to the polls on Tuesday to do my civic duty, and exercise the privilege extended to me as a citizen of this free republic.  Along with most of the rest of you (even you Trumpkins, if you're honest with yourselves), I fully expected that, sometime before my normal bedtime, I'd turn on the TV and learn that Mrs. Clinton had won the election, and become the president-elect, on her way to becoming the first woman elected President of these United States, and blah-blah-blah.  But the polls had been tightening up in recent days (as they always do), and I was curious as to how it was going. . .

Almost absent-mindedly, I turned on the TV, sometime around 9 o'clock, and saw the drama unfolding.  It was the most incredible, dumbfounding thing - it couldn't be happening, but it was.  One after another - Florida, North Carolina, Georgia - big electoral-vote 'battleground' states fell Trumpward, all close.  The juggernaut just kept rolling and rolling, and no matter how much my better judgement kept telling me it was time to go to bed, I couldn't look away.  Finally, sometime around 1AM, when Pennsylvania rolled over from Clinton leading to Trump leading, I could see where it was headed, and I finally called it a night.  Even my home state of Michigan, which is pretty reliably 'blue-leaning' for the national offices (the previous six presidential elections, and one single Republican Senate term in the last 40 years), fell on the Trump side, by less than 11,000 votes out of almost 5 million cast (less than a quarter of a percent, the closest margin of all the 50 states).  I mean, this wasn't supposed to happen. . .

But happen it did, to my astonishment as much as anyone else's.  I hasten to be clear - I had no horse in this race.  I'm not happy that my guy won, because my guy didn't win, and the guy that won is, let there be no doubt, NOT my guy.  It's just an astonishing, didn't-see-this-coming occurrence.  'Dewey-Defeats-Truman' astonishing.


And now, the bitterness and rage from the losing side have commenced in earnest.  And thus, my schadenfreude. . .

See, I have this in common with the the Trumpkins - both of us are loathed by the Democrats.  They used to be better at hiding it, but lately, not so much.  As far back as 2008, Barack Obama, on his way to becoming President, spoke of those who are "bitter, cling[ing] to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them. . ."  And in this campaign cycle, Mrs. Clinton herself spoke of the Trumpkins as a "basket of deplorables".

It's really hard to miss what's being said - "You people are losers; we're smarter than you, we're more virtuous than you, we're more educated than you, we make more money than you.  And besides that, we're on the right side of history, 'cuz we just see more deeply into the future than the rest of you. Hell, our kids are cuter than yours, and they take oboe lessons.   We're just better people than you in every imaginable way.  So, the best thing for you is just to shut up and do what we tell you, because we know what's good for you, better than you know it for yourselves."

And increasingly, they have shown an inclination to make life hell for those who dissent from their vision of how things are.  I'm thinking bakers, florists, and photographers; even pizza-parlor owners who will probably never be asked to cater a wedding reception, but have the poor judgement to offer an unpopular opinion when asked.  I mean, really?  These are the people you're goin' after?

So, as I see it, all these 'bitter', 'deplorable' people people just stood up and said, "Yeah?  Well, deplore THIS!!"  (*insert finger gesture here*)

So now I'm seeing a lot of borderline unhinged stuff coming out in the news - it was 'White Nationalists' who won the election for Trump (I'm sure the KKK wishes they had that kind of clout).  Or all the standard 'Rural = Stupid' tropes we've seen for the past few years.  There is no such thing as a 'disagreement' with these folks; the only possible explanation is that you are wicked or stupid, or both.  And seriously - email-bombing Republican electors to change their votes?!?

I suppose it's understandable, on one level; I mean, these are people who've come to regard it as their birthright to hold hegemony over the culture; they have not tired of admonishing the rest of us not to be on 'the wrong side of history'.  So, when history proves not to be quite so co-operative as they had imagined, these all-knowing wise ones don't know what to do. . .

I'm thinking, they don't get it; they just don't get it.  They live in an insulated world where they're so convinced of their own superiority as human beings that they just can't imagine that everybody else can't see it, too.  Or that we'll all be anything but happy about having our noses rubbed in it.  I mean, for people who fancy themselves as tolerant, there sure are a lot of people they can't tolerate.  And, for people who claim to stand for the interests of 'the little guy', there are an awful lot of 'little guys' they regard as 'deplorable', and they're awfully eager to stomp on those same 'little guys' when they don't get in line.  For people who profess to hate bullying, they bully awfully well. . .

Anyway, that's what passes for political analysis around these parts. . .


One more time (realizing that I risk seeming to 'protest too much'): I'm not a Trumpkin; I didn't vote for Trump; I'm as concerned as anybody about his character, and what kind of President he'll be.  In particular, I keep telling my evangelical Trumpkin friends that I think they're kidding themselves if they think he's their friend, but we will see what we will see (I also tell them that it's not a good look when you go after Bill Clinton for his sexual peccadilloes, but wave off Trump's; do you stand for principles, or is it just a matter of which side is engaging in the debauchery?  Just askin'). . .

But, come next January 20, he'll be our President - all of us, whether we voted for him or not, whatever we think of his character.

I also think that one of the most amazing things about this country of ours (maybe THE most amazing thing) is the unbroken string of 44 consecutive orderly transfers of power, spanning 228 years.  Now is not the time to break that string. . .


And, if you're interested, here is an article that captures my thinking very well. . .

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

. . . To Make a House a Home

My friend Xavier has been telling the story of the house that he and his family have lived in for the past several years. It's a great story, and I encourage any of my readers to go and read it (here, and here and here and here). His story also provoked my own memories of how we came to live in the house we do, which is a pretty decent story in its own right. . .


It was 17 years ago this month, in November of 1999, that Jenn and I went on a 'couple's getaway' to a bed-and-breakfast in Pentwater, MI, a lovely village on the shores of Lake Michigan (honestly, if you ever get the chance to spend time in Pentwater, take it). We had a lovely time together, walking on the beach (the rapidly-chilling fall weather notwithstanding), and enjoying the ambience of an off-season tourist town, and each other's company, glad for a weekend's respite from our seven (at the time) children. Reluctantly, when it came time to return to home and the real world, we got in our car for the three hours' drive home.

We were maybe 20 minutes into the drive when Jenn turned to face me and sighed heavily. "We need a new house," she said, soberly.

Clever woman, my wife; get your husband all softened up with romantic walks on the beach, and, um, you know, romantic stuff, then drop the hammer on him.

I continued driving, my eyes fixed on the road ahead. "Why do you say that?" I asked.

Honestly, I knew what she was talking about - our 1400-square-foot domicile had long since become too small for the two of us and the seven children God had blessed us with. We had taken some measures to squeeze as much 'living space' as we could out of the increasingly meager space we had. I had built a loft in the three boys' (3M, 4M, and 5M) bedroom, so they could all sleep in their tiny 10x12 bedroom, but still have a bit of open floor space in which to play. And Jenn and I had taken to sleeping on a hide-a-bed in the 'back bedroom' which mainly served as a playroom for the 'little kids' (6F and 7M) during the day. But no matter what we did, it was becoming impossible to cram the nine of us into the house we had.

I had floated some ideas about expanding the house - adding a second floor to the back addition, converting the attic into 'liveable' space - an office, or play space, bumping up the liveable square-footage to something closer to 1700 or so, and I was in the planning stages of financing the project, but now Jenn was weighing in with her thoughts on my plan.

"None of those things does anything about sitting all our kids, and their spouses and kids, around our table for the holidays," she noted. "We'll just end up needing something bigger in another few years, anyway."

I had to admit, her logic was pretty flawless. Leave it to my wife to be thinking ahead to holiday dinners with our kids' families, years in the future. We talked some more, and then I mulled her words over for a while as we drove ever-closer to home. I really didn't want to move; the last time we'd sold a house, we'd ended up owning two houses for two years or more, and ended up selling our first house at a loss, just to get out from under it. So I was not exactly looking forward to going through another round of buying and trying to sell a house.

Finally, I collected my thoughts into a pile and told her, "Okay, I'll agree to move, if three conditions are met. One, we're walking distance from the kids' school right now; I still want to be walking distance from the same school." (It was our parish school; we knew and were comfortable with the school and all the teachers, and were well dug-in with lots of good relationships there). "Second," I continued, "it has to be at least 2000 square feet, or it's not worth moving. And third, it has to be affordable." I named a price which was about double what we were paying for our house-at-the-time, but wouldn't strain our budget more than we could handle. "If you can find that house," I said, "I'll buy it. But I don't think you can."

You can see why Jenn likes to call me 'Mr. Supportive'. . .

We got back home, and life returned to normal - including the cross-bar in the hide-a-bed that ground against my ribs every night - and I almost forgot about our conversation in the car on the way home from Pentwater.

Then one day, Jenn came to me, more excited than usual (and you know, she's usually pretty upbeat and energetic, so this was notable). "I want us to go look at a house tonight," she enthused.

Damn; so she'd really meant it.

I agreed, so she called the realtor, who came by and let us into the house. It was three blocks from the kids' school (on the opposite side of the school from where we were living), on a dead-end street with a large park at the dead end. Okay. . . so far, so good. We drove up, and it was obvious that it was much larger than the house we then had. Okay. . . that's two. And the neighbors on both sides of the place were good friends of ours. Hmmmm. . . bonus points?

We went inside and looked around. Which wasn't easy, because the power had been turned off.


At this point, I need to go off on a bit of a digression, which (I hope) will, in the fullness of time, add detail to the story. . .

The house was originally built in 1922. At the time, it was a large-ish single-family house. In fact, it was a farm house, just outside of the 1922 boundaries of OurTown, between OurTown proper and East OurTown, the college town five miles away. In time, both OurTown and East OurTown expanded, and the small farm for which our house was the farmhouse was broken into lots, and it all became part of the surrounding city. And so life went for the first 50 years or so of its existence.

Then, sometime in the 70s, the neighborhood we live in went through a kind of mini-collapse, and slumlords investors came in and scooped up all kinds of newly-distressed properties, of which ours was one.

The slumlord gentleman who bought our house reasoned, with flawless logic, that he'd wring more money out of his property if he could collect two, or even three, rents every month than if he rented it out as a large single-family dwelling. And it was certainly big enough, if a slumlord fellow were a little creative, to do just that.

He boarded up doorways and dolled up one end of the basement (including punching a hole in the foundation wall for an egress door), and turned it into a three-unit rental. Then, sometime in the 80s or early 90s (we think, from the neighbors' stories), they had a whopper of a flood, and the basement unit became functionally useless (at least, he couldn't muster the motivation to clean it up and render it habitable again).

I'm not sure what, exactly, precipitated the crisis, but in the fall of '99 the slumlord (who may or may not have been living in one of the units) abandoned the property. And when I say he abandoned it, I mean he abandoned it. . .


So, when we came for our first look at the house, it was December. The first thing I remember about the house that would eventually become ours, is the puddles of ice on all the floors. The slumlord previous owner walked away from the place, and didn't even bother to drain the hot-water heating system before winter (it wasn't his house anymore, so what the hell did he care?). So, all the old cast-iron heat radiators cracked and spilled water on all the floors, which (mercifully) quickly froze.

But, as we looked around, I started to see possibilities in the place. The front door opened into the living room, and just to the right of the door was a small 'parlor' which whispered to me, 'Study'. I'd long wanted to have a study, where I could retreat for some short relief from the chaos of seven kids. It was part of my plan for the old house, to finish the attic. But. . . here was a study, ready-made and waiting. Nice. . .

There were other nice features - the built-in china cabinets in the dining room (which we found out later were mahogany that the slumlord previous owner had painted over; in fact, all of the trim in the living and dining rooms was painted-over mahogany. . . aarrgghhh!), the honest-to-goodness master bedroom (good-bye, hide-a-bed!), and a spacious family room in the back (at the opposite end of the house from the 'Study'!)

To make a long story a little less long, the house was to be sold at auction, and the 'nominal' price was exactly the number I'd given Jenn in our talk in the car. We could have put in a lower bid, but we thought, why try to grab it on the cheap and risk getting outbid? So we made a full-price bid (plus $10, just to remove the possibility that another bid might tie ours) (yeah, we were probably a tad over-eager. . .)

The day we closed, our new neighbors ripped out the fence separating our yard from theirs, opening up the three back yards together for their kids and ours. . .


We were still left with the problem of selling our then-current house. We interviewed four realtors. Two of them took the attitude that our house was a slum-house in a slum-neighborhood, so we should just low-ball the price and get out as quick as we could. The other two actually saw some possibilities in the place, and were aware of a swell of demand in our part of town. Obviously, we chose one of the latter, and set the price at a level that I thought was extravagantly high, but our agent assured us that it was well-priced, and if it didn't sell, we could drop the price, but let's give it a chance. . . And he gave us a set of 'assignments' to get the house ready to sell. We pulled up the dingy old living-room carpet, only to find a full hardwood floor underneath it; we painted, we pulled up the carpet from the upstairs bathroom (yes, you read that right), painted, finished the living room floor, and then painted.  He even told us to put our books (35 boxes worth!) in storage, to make the place look more spacious. We rang in the New Milennium painting the living room (and duly rejoiced when the lights stayed on past midnight. . .)

Lo and behold, within less than a month, we had a full-price offer. In fact, the buyers specifically asked if we would mind leaving the loft in the upstairs bedroom. Which I was only too happy to accommodate, since I didn't really want to deal with the hassle of dismantling and disposing of it. . .

One final bit of the story. Our buyers were financing through the VA, and VA inspectors are notoriously, um, I don't want to say 'capricious', but you get the idea. The inspector wanted us to reseal the flat roof on the back addition. Well, I had just resealed it the previous year, and I told him so, but he wouldn't budge. Thing was, it was early March, which is still winter in this part of the world, and you can't seal a roof in early March - the tar just won't flow. He wanted us to set up an escrow account to have the work done the following summer, but I just told the guy (and not with a smile), "First 75-degree day that comes along, I'll seal it." And lo and behold - I think it was the very next day - we got a 75-degree day. In the single-digit days of March. So I took the day off work, went and bought a 5-gallon bucket of roof tar, and sealed the roof. Never let it be said that I'm un-cooperative (and, uh, hat tip to God. . .)


Turns out, we turned enough of a profit from the sale of the old home to fix the new place up and revert it back to single-family status. We replaced the broken hot-water system with forced-air and central A/C for the same price we would have paid for a new hot-water system, restored the basement apartment to useability (which was nice for us, since our older kids were just approaching college age, and it was a nice feature for us to have the basement unit for them to use as a kind of 'launching pad'), and we even discovered 100-or-so square feet of 'dead space' which we added to the two second-floor bedrooms.

And we bought a brand-new queen-size bed for Jenn and me to sleep on. . .

There are more stories I could tell, but this is already waaaayyyyy too long. We've been living here for more than 16 years now, and even welcomed another kid into our family.  And we've made a few more improvements along the way (those mahogany china cabinets are magnificent without the paint; to say nothing of the skylights in the family room; or the kitchen remodel that Jenn's brother did in '07). The place has its idiosyncracies even still, but we have no doubt (and perhaps you'll agree) that God gave it to us. . .

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Bliss 36. . .

36 years of Connubial Bliss. . . and counting. . .

Thank you, My Beloved, for throwing your life (and your DNA) in with mine, these 36 years.  I am utterly grateful. . .


It might have been six years ago, when we were celebrating our 30th, that I stopped at the store and, in preparation for the anniversary festivities, bought a dozen roses, a box of Jenn's favorite candy, and a magnum of champagne.  As I was checking out, the clerk, a woman about my age at the time, looked at me with wide eyes, and sputtered, "WHAT DID YOU DO?!?"


And it seems a fitting observance that this coming weekend, Jenn and I will be helping to put on a retreat for married couples at a parish Up North, not far from my hometown (of course, when you're Up North, 'not far' is still an hour's drive. . .)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Cracking the Bible Code???

The other night, 8M was texting with one of his buddies, when he stopped and chuckled to himself.  Jenn looked at him; "What's so funny?" she asked.

"I just realized that, to text 'Mom' from my phone, I key in '666'."

Serves her right for asking, I guess. . .

Thursday, May 19, 2016

In My (Blog-)Life. . .

Ten years ago today, I made my first entry into BlogWorld.  For those of you who are interested, you could follow the link to my old blog in the sidebar, and check it out (here is a link to the first month's posts).  Honestly, the first post itself was pretty. . . lame.  But it wasn't long before I was developing the themes which have been more-or-less running bits throughout the life of both of my blogs.

I originally posted under the pseudonym of Desmond Jones, cleverly lifted (if I may say so myself) from the Beatles' song, 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da', with its main character Desmond Jones and his happy union with his wife Molly, and their 'couple of kids running in the yard'.

My blog-life has actually had four distinct phases.  The first ran from May-August of '06, at which point I took a brief 'break', when it felt like I was putting too much effort and attention into my blog at the expense of other, more important things, like taking care of my family (which was really ironic, since a large proportion of my blogging material has pertained to the joys and heartbreaks of marriage and family life).

That 'break' was short-lived, and by September, I was back at it, maybe even more actively than before.  I like to think of this as sort of the 'golden age' of my blog; a disproportionate number of my favorite posts come from this period.

By the spring of '07, though, things were feeling a bit out-of-hand again, and so I shut my blog down again.  This time, I stayed gone for over a year, although I continued to visit and comment on the blogs I'd gotten to know in my months of blogging.

The third phase of my blog commenced in the summer of '08, when I started my blog back up for the third time.  And I've stayed more-or-less active ever since. . .

At the end of '09, I stopped posting to my original 'Running In the Yard' blog, and opened this current blog, dropping the pseudonyms (at least for Jenn and me; the kids have retained their original birth-order/gender designations).  I just moved to 'The Yard Next Door'; same blog, really, just dropping the mask a tiny bit.  And I've been here ever since.

Anyway, here we are, ten years on.  I've enjoyed blogging, most especially the friends I've made here, and the interesting people I've met (to the extent I can say we've actually 'met', or become friends).  Once, in the fall of '08, a few of us who live in the Upper Midwest got together face-to-face for a weekend in Indianapolis, which was fun.  I'd love to meet more of you all, and maybe I will. . . or, you know, maybe not.  We will see what we will see. . .

Blogging sort-of 'peaked' a few years ago (probably a year or two before I moved 'next door'; ironically, around the time of our face-to-face in Indy), and now there's just a few of us hardy hangers-on from the 'Old Days' (mainly over-50 geezers by now).  I honestly don't know how many more years I'll keep this blog going; for the past year-plus, the activity level around The Yard has been pretty low.  But I suppose, as long as I keep coming up with stuff to blog about and stories to tell (or, you know, re-tell), stuff will keep popping up here.  Until it doesn't.

Thanks to all of you who keep showing up to read my stuff (God only knows why); and especially those of you who take the time to leave a comment now and again.  I've really enjoyed it. . .

Ten years. . . Man, who knew? . . .


Continuing on the theme of Retrospection (and just because I'm that kind of generous), I'm gonna give you all links to my most popular posts, or at least the ones with the most page-views. . .

Back to the Drawing Board, I Guess

The Best Man I've Ever Known

Place Names In Michigan

Another Book Post

John Chrysostom for Christmas

I Am a Nazarene

With My Body, I Thee Worship

And one from my old blog. . .

Growing Up In the 60s

Thanks for visiting. . .

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

An Old-Fashioned Blog List

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

Have You Ever. . .

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Madness. . . Madness. . .

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

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

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

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

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


Maybe next year. . .

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


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

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Long-Stemmed WHAT?

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


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

But, maybe that’s just us.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

I married a great, great woman. . .

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Divided By a Common Language. . .

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


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

Absolutely true story. . .

Friday, January 22, 2016

It's Still Personal. . .

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

The Pre-Persons, by Philip K. Dick

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

Friday, January 1, 2016

Ugh. . .

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, everybody!