Thursday, April 20, 2017
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
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
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.
- "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.
- 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.
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."
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- [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]
- 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.
- 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!"
- 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?
Thursday, March 23, 2017
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
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
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.