Thursday, April 27, 2017

Laughing

Most things can be funny. I'm fortunate to have grown up in a house that laughed a lot, and I'm thankful to live in one that does, too. Laughter has been on my mind a lot the last few days. I'm teaching a class that has begun a humor and satire unit at school, and a friend and I have been trading emails about the brilliance of Calvin & Hobbes comics.

Our kids are funny (these are some of my all-time favorites).

tell 'em









I also appreciate that we laugh at silly things, like funny sounds or ridiculous movies, or laughing when we're scared or surprised. I don't feel like it's a stretch that we laugh in our house every day. I'm thankful to live and laugh with my family at this precious time.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easter

Sending Easter love & light from the Smiths.

We were home for Easter this year. After spending spring break in Florida with my parents, we headed home for the weekend, since school resumed the Monday after. We also got back in time for the kids to each play a baseball game.

The holiday, a truly Holy Day, of course, has inherent significance--well beyond the traditions of our little family. That said, I've come to love how we celebrate it. What we've cultivated over the years is a day full of joy. This does include things like toys and candy, but it always includes time together. This year our time together was blueberry muffins for breakfast, church, an egg hunt in our front yard, and then an afternoon and evening spent relaxing and playing together.

I'm grateful for Easter, for our family traditions, and the memories we make. I'm also thankful that I have pictures of us each year. My heart aches and swells looking through these as they show the many and varied seasons of our family life.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Spring

Things are shifting. The air is warm and sticky, thick with pollen. Today, the sky was wild and the wind, fierce. We experienced a mostly mild winter--a spring preview of sorts--but now the warm weather is here to stay, even if it is a bit dramatic this week.

We watched our last college basketball game of the season on Monday night. Tobin's favorite team was playing for the title. Last year, we let him stay up when they played in the championship also. That game ended in heartbreak. This year ended in happiness. I know it's just sports, but it felt bigger than that. I spent most of the game worried about how he would handle another loss, fretting that I would have to explain to him again that some things don't go the way we want them to. But then the Tar Heels made just enough good plays to win the game, and we hugged and were grateful to share such a joyful (exhausting) moment together.

Our sports focus shifts outside, in the longer daylight hours, to baseball. All three kids are playing this season. They put on their gear, pack their bags, and pile in the van to go spend a couple hours at the ballpark. They're talking about hitting and catching, and can't wait to get their new uniforms. We will sit beside both familiar and new faces on the bleachers, cheering our kids on. There's a lot of promise as the season begins.

I'm emerging from my running slump, making efforts to stick to a more consistent routine. It's easier to do when the mornings are so pretty. In a couple months, I'll try to get up and out there before the sun is up, but right now I'm enjoying the combo of sunshine and still-cool morning temps. I often find myself in a familiar place each spring: frustrated with myself for slacking off on running in the winter but eventually encouraged as I build my stamina back up. I've been here before; I know I can do it.

Next up is a little break from school and work. We'll spend a week in Florida with my parents, playing and resting. We'll come home to backyard Wiffle ball, gardening, and weekly cookouts. I'm thankful for the change in season and how it feels both familiar and new.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Madness

Last year, I posted the text of my March Madness basketball challenge here. I decided not to this year, in part because I enjoy the medium and context of the emails. I also enjoy the update-driven format of letting people know their scores in our competition. But mostly, I enjoy the community and the chance to make goofy observations about the almost-embarrassing amount of time I put into the tournament.

A central figure in my tournament emails for the last eight (!) years has been Clark Kellogg. I used to laugh at Clark Kellogg, but over time I've come to really like him. He has a ready wit, is generous and kind with people, even on Twitter, and fearlessly (and sometimes hilariously) provides his commentary on the games. His work became an early jump-off point for me to make some jokes, perhaps in part because I was trying to make sports more important than they really are. Still, over time, my appreciation for Clark Kellogg has grown into a sincere fondness. We've never met, but I'm pretty sure even if he read the jokes I've made about him, he would roll with it and continue being himself. I'm thankful for the tournament and the connection it allows me with my friends. And I'm thankful for Clark Kellogg, who occupies a special place in my basketball-loving heart. Below are some of my longer Kellogg-centered comments over the last 8 years of facilitating a bracket challenge among my friends.
---------------------------------------------------
2010
3/18/2010
Clark Kellogg used the following phrases in just one broadcast today (Big 10 Championship):
  • "Agitating to ecstasy."
  • "That's what penetration will get you."
  • "You've got to worry then about the pseudo-penetration."
  • "He's working hard and deserves a blow."
  • "You have to protect yourself against their spurtability."
  • And, as far as I can tell, Clark Kellogg coined the word "valutility" today.


3/20/2010
Clark Kellogg's insight today included the observation that California has a losing record when its shooting percentage is lower than its opponent's. He later referred to a player getting "a lower-body root canal."  My imagination has done horrible things with that image in the hours since I heard it.


3/27/2010
Who else brought it? Clark Kellogg brought it:
  • During the Baylor-St. Mary's game, talking about an old school coach: "He's older than tweeting. Older than this twittering age we live in." The Twitter allusion works as a clever comment on the coach's age and a wry comment on the perfunctory communication modern man engages in. Kellogg is adding his distinct voice to the postmodern heteroglossia of Twitter.
  • On a player fouling out: "He's been Dairy Queened." His pedestrian explanation to Jim Nantz that he was creatively saying "DQ'd for disqualified," was just being modest. "He's been Dairy Queened" is a much richer and more insightful comment than it appears. It's a clear appeal to our collective subconscious and our oneiric archetype of the Dairy Queen experience. When do we go? For a treat. When do we get a treat? When our game is done. When is your game done? When you foul out. Jim Nantz might as well have been working the game with T.S. Eliot last night.


3/28/10
Clark Kellogg pulled his "Dairy Queened" line out again today, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's product placement. Earlier, during a sequence involving free throws, he said "You don't always have to get the best parking spot at the mall, just take the one that's available." While that's good advice, its connection to the game was lost on me.


2011
3/13/11
I leave you with this, from today's Big 10 Championship game, Clark Kellogg: "One more thing to consider: the mental, and the emotional, and the physical fatigue he's feeling from being tired."


3/18/11
Clark Kellogg talks more about penetration that anyone on television. He bragged about coining "pseudo-penetration" as a term during the Big 10 championship. He picked it up again during UALR-UNC-Asheville: "That's incomplete penetration. Just enough to need a little help." He's sure to squeeze a little more in tomorrow.


2012
4/4/12
When Doron Lamb hit back-to-back threes in the second half, Kentucky fans were excited, the Superdome was rocking, and Clark Kellogg was inspired to say "Ohhh! He just threw some dust in the air filter." Read that again: "He just threw some dust in the air filter." I've decided to make this part of my regular phraseology. A few ideas:


"I've had good frittata before, but this is truly dust in the air filter."


"Yo, you were doing your thing in the bridge tournament."
"Just throwing some dust in the air filter."


"Your perennials are a joy. We're so glad you're part of the Garden Club."
"Thanks very much. Just trying to do my part. You know, throw some dust in the air filter."


"I've been nervous to say this to you before, because I've never felt like this before, but when we're together, it's . . . it's . . . dust in the air filter."


2013
3/30/13
Clark Kellogg is awesome.
  • At one point last night, he said "Keep your head out of the popcorn." I would give you the context, but there wasn't any. I choose to take it as advice I can't yet appreciate.
  • During the aforementioned offensive drought by Michigan St., he sagely noted "They're going to need shots to drop if they're going to come back." Taoist.
  • He noted a couple of times that Duke's defense was "Saran Wrap tight." Clark Kellogg is better at Saran Wrap than I am.


4/10/13
My formerly-ironic love for Clark Kellogg may be turning into un-ironic wonder at his almost-performance-art commentary. I wish Steve Kerr wasn't on the broadcast, because he seems to inhibit Kellogg's more space-cadet-worthy contributions. All too often, Kerr corrects Kellogg on replay, as if we are defined by external limits of objective truth and reality. And Jim Nantz? Meh. My favorite Kellogg moments from last night:
  • When Wichita State's pace seemed to frustrate Louisville's hapless offense, Kellogg offered "Unless Louisville can speed this game up, Wichita St. will keep doing what they're doing." You might think this is redundant, but read it to yourself again--it's as clear and profound as introductory physics. If Stephen Hawking were calling the game, he would say things like this.
  • Malcolm Armstead had a tough game against Louisville. At one point, though, he spun his way up the court, almost losing the ball. Extra spins meant extra prefixes for Kellogg, who succinctly described Armstead's effort: "He did a nice job to re-retrieve it."
  • Michigan was up 8 points on Michigan with three minutes to go. Kellogg opined "If you're Michigan, your instinct is to ride with the parking brake on." At first I rejected this idea. That would never be anyone's instinct. But I've thought about it a lot. Here's my theory: a) Michigan is famous in part for its contribution to the auto industry. b) Improvements in car quality may have seriously reduced the need for auto mechanics. c) Riding with the parking brake on could stimulate the service economy necessary to maintain Detroit's most famous export. To conclude, I think Clark Kellogg was tying together our tendency to be careful with precarious leads and note the Wolverines' empathetic stance on our national shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy.


4/12/13
Clark Kellogg was a little muted, but he said one thing that resonated with me:
  • During a frenetic stretch during the first half, he exploded "You'd better keep your head up and stay out the kitchen. This one is full throttle." I don't have anything to add at this time, but I hope you'll keep it in mind


2014
3/28/2014
I told you how disappointed I was that Clark Kellogg had been demoted to the studio. That's why I was giddy last night. FINALLY: Clark Kellogg, from the studio, breaking down the first half of the Dayton Stanford game: "Dayton has the ability with its reversible-clothing type players, inside and out to give Stanford all they can take."
  • Read it again. "Dayton has the ability with its reversible-clothing type players, inside and out to give Stanford all they can take." On the surface, it only says "Dayton has the ability to compete equally with Stanford." The richness of Kelloogg's work lies in the imagery and levels of language: I've had two concepts blended in my mind for the first time: reversible clothing (neutral for temperature) and modifiable clothing (for adapting to temperature changes). I've become enamored of the concept. Kellogg could make a Kickstarter campaign for reversible zip-off pants. I would buy some. Just like I buy the basketball players that they necessarily call to mind.
  • Product potential aside, don't miss the balanced, evocative language of reversible: inside/out & give/take. This is composition, friends. Underestimate Clark Kellogg at your peril.


2015
3/16/15
Clark Kellogg, during the selection show, cautioned America that Wichita St. is not to be overlooked. His words, exactly, were "They've been flying below the radar screen." This novel take on the cliche "flying under the radar" tweaked my brain. It shifted the action of the metaphor from the world of aviation to Hank Pym territory. To Wayne Szalinski territory. Because really, flying under radar is high-level military-grade subterfuge, but flying under the radar screen challenges your perception of physics and relativity. No joke, I was up at 2:48 this morning thinking about "flying under the radar screen" (and I have the Fitbit data to prove it).
  • [Mission Control]
  • "Can you see them on radar, Corporal?"
  • "No sir."
  • "Might they be flying under our radar?"
  • "I can't imagine how. We've --OHMYGOD THEY'RE UNDER THE SCREEN THEY'RE IN THE BUILDING THEY'R--" [scene]


2016
3/21/16
I'm increasingly convinced Clark Kellogg is communicating in code in a way normal mortals can't understand. His use of quotation marks alone makes me suspicious that there's more going on than we're aware of.
  • Kellogg, on Villanova's blowout of Iowa, said "In our house, we call that a woodshed, whether it's Word Streak or Words With Friends." Um ,OK. There's not even a vague mention of basketball there. At all. But let's dig deeper
    • 'Woodshed' would have a base score of 15 in Words With Friends (16 in Scrabble).
    • Depending on your luck with double/triple letter and word tiles, adjacent letters, and on whether you played all your tiles for 'woodshed' (bingo!), you could possible score 54, 33, or 87, which were Villanova's 1st half, 2nd half, and final scores, respectively. This is Kellogg at his best. Subtle, but with depth that rewards effort.


3/26/16
You guys know I love Clark Kellogg, and this tweet is a good example of his clever facility with English: In case you can't click the link: "Purloins late . . . means . . . Joy for Irish" is the base sentence. At first glance, Kellogg seems to be pluralizing "purloin" (a verb) as a replacement for "steal" (usually a noun in this instance). "OK, so he's got a Thesaurus app on his phone," you say. But nobody uses purloin as a verb. Instead (stay with me a minute here), since "means" is also a singular verb in the tweet, both of these verbs share an implied, singular subject: an "Irishman." By suggesting an Irishman who gets joy from thievery, Kellogg is obviously tossing a subtle allusion to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," in which Irish people are ironically characterized as base, immoral people through the lens of an oppressive English gentleman. The analogy created here suggests English Protestants are to Irish Catholics as the NCAA is to College athletes. In less than 140 characters, Kellogg deftly implies the bulk of the NCAA-as-paternalistic-sharecroppers argument. That he does it from the belly of the Tournament Beast only confirms it may be the singular moment of speaking truth to power we've seen in this year's tourney.


3/28/16
Without explanation or preview, this happened on CBS Saturday. It was absurd, even more so because there was no warning or clear inspiration for it. I can only imagine the production meeting before the show:
  • Producer #1: "We've got 4 minutes to fill."
  • Producer #2: "Let's go back to the touchscreen."
  • Producer #1: "Please don't ever suggest that again. Maybe a remote interview?"
  • Producer #2: "Too cliche'. We need something innovative."
  • Producer #3: [snorts as he wakes from Wisconsin-induced nap] "No! Um, tangled, the. .. the strings are tangled THE PUPPETS are, uh . . . what?"
  • Producer #1: "Genius! Call the puppet guys!"
Clark Kellogg explained the puppet show by saying "Innovation happens when ideas collide; somebody had a crazy idea of collision with these puppets being us. And here we are." I don't think he was talking about basketball; he's exploring metaphysics. He's talking about all of us, and the statistical improbability that we get the chance to share this world together at this exact moment. Somebody [beyond our control and fundamentally unknown to us] had a crazy idea [creation] with these puppets [a shared form that can be perceived with 5 senses] being us. And here we are. Exactly: And here we are.

2017
3/17/17
Most of you know my love for Clark Kellogg. He is, whether intentionally or not, the TS Eliot of college basketball. I wish he could call every game.
  • He has repeatedly referred to college basketball players being "brain neutral." This two-word combo has become my own personal Banach-Tarsky paradox. I don't know if brain neutral is good or bad. Sometimes I think it's an asset to be brain neutral. Other times, I'm convinced it's what keeps us from excelling. Am I "brain neutral" as I type this? I don't even know. As soon as you contemplate "brain neutral," you no longer are.
  • A related linguistic subversion happened during the University of New Orleans-Mt. St. Mary's "First Four" game Tuesday night. Travin Thibodeaux (the most Louisiana name in the tourney) almost choked out a teammate after a costly turnover. Kellogg's comment was "They're getting closing to dropping hands there." At first, I thought he was misstating the slang "throwing hands" for fighting. But "dropping hands" is an even richer phrase. And the team that was in danger of dropping hands is known as UNO. UNO. As in, "draw four" -- the "First Four drawn" -- drop your hand in UNO and you lose all possibility of the sneak-attack Reverse-Skip-Draw-Two combo you have waiting for Grandma. UNO, you lose. You lose, UNO. How could that be accidental?


3/25/17
At halftime of the Wisconsin game, Clark Kellogg annotated a layup highlight by saying "Khalil Iverson: bouncing toward ecstasy." At first, I thought it was odd to give an implicit allusion to a record famous for overwrought emotional appeal. Then this guy had a key chase-down block on Iverson. Kellogg's comment was prescient. We can all be sure Mclachlan wrote this song with moments like Iverson's in mind.


3/28/17
At halftime, CBS brought the puppets back. In an already surreal segment on picking a new favorite for the tourney, Puppet Clark Kellogg said "Hashtag [PENTAB]," then explained he was picking Gonzaga. He finished by clarifying the acronym: "Pick Another Team Day in America." By normal acronym standards, this should have been "hashtag PATDA." That's not what he said. Guys, I'm pretty sure Clark is trying to tell me something, but I just can't find it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Work

Back in September, I started working a part-time job. I work ten hours a week in the office of an investment adviser in downtown Durham. Typically, I work two to three days a week during school hours. Though not in my field, the work is predictable and interesting, and I work with some really great people. It's an amazingly good fit for my life now: allows me to earn a little money and fits well with my family schedule.

Then in December, a local attorney, a friend of a friend of a friend, contacted me. He was interested in hiring someone to do research and writing. I work almost entirely remotely, usually on my off days during the week or evenings and weekends, billing by the hour for whatever project I'm working on. Again, it's been a great fit with everything else. I'm also incredibly grateful to have an entry point back into my chosen field, should I choose to pursue it.

The final piece of my "work" puzzle is volunteering for the kids' school. I'm on the PTA Board, and I also serve as co-chair of the School Improvement Team. That works out to at least two meetings a month, one of which I typically co-facilitate. In my PTA role, I help coordinate a monthly breakfast/lunch buffet for teachers. I'm at the school a lot, and when I'm not, I'm sending emails or meeting with parents, staff, or other community members to talk about issues affecting the school. It's been perhaps more time-consuming than I envisioned, but overwhelmingly a labor of love.

My life is a lot fuller with outside activities than it was a year ago. Though it's considerably less flexible and more scheduled, I remain very grateful for the flexibility that is still there. This week is a great example. I worked my office job on Monday, scheduling my hours so I could go straight to the kids' school for a 4:00 meeting. Monday night, Lauren was up most the night with bad congestion and coughing, so I ended up staying home with her Tuesday, a day I was scheduled to work four hours at my office job. My plan had been to work the office job on Tuesday and make some progress on a legal research project on Wednesday. I was able to switch that around and, since I was home with a recuperating Lauren on Tuesday, I sat with my laptop and researched and wrote while she rested and watched TV. Then, on Wednesday, I was back at the office.

Of course, all these moving parts work in coordination because of my other team members. The kids ride the bus home sometimes, and Matt helps give me space and time to work on the weekends when I need it. He is also spending the bulk of the time at the ballpark, while all three kids are practicing twice a week during the pre-season of spring baseball. I'm thankful for the ever-changing fullness of our lives and curious to see how things may change even more over the coming year.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tributes

I love teaching my public speaking class for a few reasons. One is that it's an all-ages, all-abilities elective class. I get to work with students bound for competitive colleges next year and students struggling with their first semester in high school. Demographically, it's as close to a cross-section of the school that I get to see outside the cafeteria: English-language learners, immigrants, honors students, seniors, freshmen, athletes, musicians, and drop-out risks share space, speak, and listen to one another.

The other reason is because it's a class that reminds me how important it is to listen to and learn from young people. I have a couple of assignments I especially look forward to every year. One comes after an often-contentious debate unit during which feelings inevitably get hurt and students find themselves on opposite sides of issues like immigration, reproductive rights, separation of church and state, and criminal reform.

This week, for the last two days, I've listened to my students pay tribute to important people in their lives. I start the unit with an example speech about my Papa, Lee Yardley. I tell stories about him, contrast his life with mine, and try to emphasize the lasting impact he had on my life. Then I give the assignment: a simple one, but one that usually finds vulnerable places in student's hearts and minds: "Your next assignment is to pay tribute to someone important in your life. Introduce us to this person through anecdotes and stories. Explain to us why this person is important to you and deserves tribute."

Then I listen.

And this is what I hear: young people who are often unfairly stereotyped as lazy, selfish, and spoiled celebrate the people in their lives who work and sacrifice and love with abundant hearts. They celebrate parents who flee danger to find better lives for their children. They shout out teachers who rally them from dark places and times. They celebrate siblings who fail and work to reform themselves. They testify their gratitude for siblings who anchor their otherwise chaotic lives. They praise their friends who love them when they feared they were unlovable. They sing the living and mourn the dead. They memorialize, laugh, and sometimes cry. The values they explicitly and implicitly champion are the same ones we all remember to honor at our best: humility, hard work, unconditional love, faith, charity, self-sacrifice, humor, generosity, bravery, defiance, resilience, dedication, and many others.

The assignment almost always refocuses the class as a community, but it also refocuses me and helps me remember that my job isn't commas and semicolons, rhetoric and literature. The best people in my life have been the ones who encouraged, supported, and affirmed me, even when I might not have deserved their good grace. To be reminded of that by the young people to whom we're entrusting our future is humbling and encouraging.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Tamrah

Batter up, Tamrah style!

Earlier this week, my sister and her husband traveled to Montana for an important court hearing. The court entered an order that is the next-to-last legal step to finalize their adoption of Tamrah. The final decree will be entered in six months.

I've been thinking a lot about Ashley, Donnie, and Tamrah and how grateful I am that they have each other. I know I've experienced only a tiny portion of the many emotions they've each gone through this week and the last few months. I will never understand why Ashley and Donnie have to endure the heartache of infertility. Nor why Tamrah, at the tender age of my own daughter, has to experience the sadness and anxiety that surely come with not knowing where you belong.

But I don't have to understand these things to be deeply grateful for the grace, mercy, and providence that allowed them to find each other. To be thankful that my sister and her husband can be the wonderful parents we all knew they were meant to be. And to be grateful for this brave little girl, who now will better understand where and to whom she belongs.

Cousins!