Monday, March 30, 2009

Final Four, Bay-Bee!

Sorry, I'm just a little bit excited that, for the seventh time in history (and fifth in the last 11 years - which just happen to coincide with the coaching tenure of Tom Izzo), my Spartans will be in the Final Four. And this time, it'll be just down the road, in Detroit. Good times! I had just gotten done with grad school when Magic Johnson and the guys won it all in '79; and the 2000 championship happened less than a month after we moved into our current house. . .

But - how 'bout that defense, eh? I almost felt bad for Louisville; they looked like they didn't know what hit 'em. . . But maybe, just maybe, they can play a little hoop somewhere besides the Big East conference. Maybe.

And it remains true that every player who has played four years for Tom Izzo has been to a Final Four (this year's seniors were on the hook, since the last time we were there was the year before they were freshmen). . .

Go Green! Go White!

Friday, March 27, 2009

16 Centuries Ahead of His Time?

Molly and I have this quote from St. John Chrysostom framed, and sitting on our dresser:

“As if she were gold receiving purest gold, the woman receives the man’s seed with rich pleasure, and within her it is nourished, cherished, and refined. It is mingled with her own substance and she then returns it as a child! The child is a bridge connecting father to mother, so the three become one flesh. . . And here the bridge is formed from the substance of each!”

- from Homily XII on Colossians

The early Church fathers have a reputation, not entirely undeserved, for being a little uptight when it comes to sexual matters (Origen and St. Augustine, for two large examples). But God bless St. John. Here he describes sex in terms any married couple could appreciate – ‘the woman receives the man’s seed with rich pleasure. . .’ Yeah, that fits with our experience. And his description of the child as the ‘one flesh’ of husband and wife has always resonated with me. He carries strong echoes (or, more truly, foreshadowings) of the Theology of the Body, 16 centuries before the fact.

So, thank God for St. John Chrysostom. And I would heartily recommend to any of my blog-friends the rich little book of his homilies On Marriage and Family Life.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Adventures on Spring Break

A while back, I posted about a near-miss automotive mishap that occurred several years ago, while our family was on its way to Florida. We've actually traveled to Florida for spring break twice. The first time was in 1989, after I’d re-established contact with my ‘first mother’. At the time, we only had three kids – 3M was a year old at the time, 2F was almost four, and 1F was almost seven. My aunt (my dad’s sister) was living in Sarasota at the time, and gave us a standing invitation to come down and stay with her at her place, and so we did.

It was the first time I had ever been south of the Ohio River (Molly had been to Florida once in college), and we generally soaked up the whole ‘heading south’ experience. Leaving Michigan with snow on the ground, and watching leaves appear on the trees and the grass get greener, the further south we went (and just seeing things like the red dirt in Georgia, for the first time). By the time we crossed the state line into Florida, it was 85º and the sun was shining, and we just felt like we were somehow cheating the system in a major way. We stopped at the ‘Welcome Station’ just across the Florida line, and 2F ran over and spontaneously hugged a palm tree. . .

We arrived at my aunt’s house, and she did a wonderful job of playing the gracious hostess and local tour guide. We drove over to Disney World (for which I’m sure I paid way too much for five of us to spend most of the day standing in line, but my kids wouldn’t have let me leave the state without going there), took in a Tigers spring training game, and consumed all the fresh-squeezed orange juice we could get our hands on (since then, frozen/canned OJ has just never been the same).

Two events stand out in my memory. First, was the initial face-to-face meeting with my ‘first mother’, for the first time in over 20 years. We were both pretty nervous, but we had a good visit. Molly’s winsome personality (she covers for my shyness in a most happy way), and the kids, went a long way toward relaxing the mood.

And there was the beach on Siesta Key. Oh. . . My. . . Goodness. It was the most incredible, beautiful beach I have ever seen. The sand was white, and fine – about the consistency of flour. We scrambled around to find a small container to take some of it back with us, just to show our friends. The water was a luminescent blue-green color, and we watched with delight as pelicans hovered high above the surface of the water, before diving to snatch a fish. And most incredibly, the beach was virtually deserted – we could look more than a mile in both directions, and see fewer than a dozen people besides ourselves. It was just incredible. We stayed on the beach until it got dark (the only not-beating-the-system aspect of the whole experience was that it was 85º and sunny on the beach in March, but the sun set at 6PM; (*sigh*) you can’t have everything).

Our week in Florida ended all too soon, and we piled back into our minivan and reversed the process we’d so enjoyed on the way south – with every passing mile, the grass got browner, the leaves on the trees got sparser and then non-existent, the air got colder, and by the time we crossed the state line back into Michigan, it was 35º and raining. . .

But we’d had a wonderful trip, and made a bunch of family memories.


Three years later, we went to Florida again, with four kids this time – 4M was a year-and-a-half old – and Molly was six months pregnant with 5M (this was when we had our vehicular near-miss). Our main goal this time was to meet my birth-father in person, for the first (and so far only) time; he also lived in Florida, not too terribly far from my aunt. We mainly stayed with my ‘first mother’ and her husband, for that trip, but we stayed at my aunt’s place for the meeting with my birth-father.

On the tourist front, we visited the Kennedy Space Center, which given my own youthful fascination with all things Space, was a major highlight. The tour of the space center was really cool, but we got an added bonus, because while we were there, a shuttle was due to land there in Florida. So, we found out the details, awoke at 4AM, inquired about the best place from which to view the landing, and staked out our spot. We were about three miles from the runway; looking across open water, we were looking right down the runway – the shuttle would virtually fly right over our heads.

As the sun rose, the crowd of shuttle-watchers grew, so that, by the time the shuttle was due to arrive, cars were parked pretty much all along the shore of the little inlet we’d parked on. The guy next to us had his radio tuned to the Space Center communication, and we could listen as the commentator tracked the shuttle’s progress – “Atlantis has just crossed the California coast, at such-and-such altitude, flying at such-and-such speed.” “Atlantis is over Texas now. . .” And so on.

A few minutes before the scheduled landing, suddenly a fleet of helicopters popped up all around us, while the radio told us that Atlantis had crossed the Gulf Coast of Florida. We heard a sharp double-crack, almost like a pair of rapid-fire gunshots, and then we heard over the radio, “Atlantis is on the runway!”


The damn shuttle flew right over our heads, and we never saw it! We heard what we were told was a double sonic boom (although I don’t think the shuttle would have been supersonic at that point; that’s what we were told, though), and we were certainly present for a shuttle landing, but somehow, despite all that, we managed to completely miss making visual contact with the bird itself.


Returning to my aunt’s house, we were eager to get back to the beach on Siesta Key, remembering what a slice of paradise it had been three years previously. But you know, a lot can change in three years. . .

Driving out to the key, it was instantly apparent that this time, the beach wasn’t going to be quite so deserted as it had been on our first visit. We parked the car and walked, farther than we remembered having to walk before (and Molly six months great with child). And as we stepped onto the celestial white sand, it became instantly obvious that, in the three years since our previous visit, the college students had discovered Siesta Key.

The beach was crammed, virtually wall to wall (if beaches can be said to have walls) with college kids, in various states of drunkenness, and various states of, um, undress. As we walked across the sand, trying to scope out a place where we could put our blanket down, at one point we were walking behind a young woman in a very, um, skimpy thong bikini (the kind that Molly refers to as ‘butt floss’; and actually, ‘skimpy’ vastly overstates the amount of actual cover the suit was providing for her). 2F, who was not quite seven at the time, turned to me and asked, in that innocent six-year-old manner, “Dad, how come that girl’s butt is hanging out?”

“I don’t know, dear,” I replied. “I wonder if her mother knows.”

The girl briefly sort-of half-turned her head and cast a quick sneer in my direction, and those pleasantries having been taken care of, we all continued on our way.

And with every passing minute, Molly was getting more and more steamed, her rotund self, great with child, juxtaposed most unfavorably (at least in her own mind) with the nubile young ladies on display all around her (and ‘on display’ does not begin to do justice to the situation). To be fair, a spring-break beach full of scantily-clad college girls is not a happy situation for a six-months pregnant mother, with four kids in tow. I practiced as much ‘ocular self-discipline’ as I could muster, and reassured her repeatedly that, as far as I was concerned, she was more woman than any of these girls would ever be, but her embarrassment could not be assuaged. And I knew that this was not going to redound to my benefit. I took a few minutes to let the kids get wet, and we hightailed it out of there. And the whole way back to my aunt’s house, Molly fumed at me, for taking her out in public looking like a whale, to be embarrassed by all the Sweet Young Things on display, etc, etc, etc. I have mostly lived it down by now, but I know better than to bring it up. . .

We had a good visit with my birth-father, and his two daughters, my half-sisters, and once again headed back home.

I don’t think I’d want to live in Florida (I’m told August there is pretty brutal), but the two times we’ve visited have been interesting, and a lot of fun. . .

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Weeping With Those Who Weep. . .

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
(Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, Chapter 12, verse 15)

Recently, I was thinking about our friend Taja, and praying for her and Brady, and their struggles with conceiving and bearing a long-hoped-for child, and I was reminded of a 'minor adventure' Molly and I had last fall, while driving home from the Great Midwestern Blogger Get-Together; I alluded to it in passing at the time, and suggested that I might blog about it someday. Well, friends - today is that day. . .

We were driving along, northbound on I-69 (no, really - that’s the freeway that goes from the Gathering Host-City up to Michigan; it’s not a bad erotic pun) (really; I promise; you can look it up on a map), talking about the weekend and the folks we’d met there – FTN’s goiter and third nipple, stuff like that – when Molly’s cell phone rang. It was one of our neighbors from back in OurTown, who was a bit surprised to hear Molly answer her call, as she’d intended to call someone else, but dialed Molly’s number by mistake. Oh, no matter, she said, I can tell you, too.

She went on to tell Molly that a mutual friend (we’ll call her Leah), married to a former member of our community (we’ll call him Todd), who had been trying for several years to conceive a child, and had recently succeeded in getting pregnant for the first time, had miscarried a day or two previously, and to solicit Molly’s prayers for her.

At the same time that Molly’s phone rang (and before I knew what the call was about), we passed a sign announcing that the city of Huntington, Indiana was 25 miles away. “Hmm,” I thought, “that’s where Todd and Leah live. I wonder if we could drop in on them, since we’ll be so close by.” And as I heard the phone call, it started to seem as though that might be just what we ought to do, in ways I had no way of anticipating.

Molly finished her call, and told me what had happened. And I told her how close we were to their home, and my ‘spontaneous’ thought of dropping in on them. Molly thought for a moment, and thought that it might be a good thing, or they might not quite be up to receiving company just yet. Wondering what we should do (and not having Todd and Leah’s phone number saved in her cell phone), Molly hurriedly placed a few calls to folks in OurTown, to get their advice, and maybe Leah’s phone number. No-one had their phone number immediately handy, but one friend suggested that we call Todd and Leah, and ask them if they were up to seeing us.

The exit for Huntington was upon us, so we got off the freeway, and seeing a gas-station/mini-mart with a pay phone, we pulled in, found the phone number, and called our friends. Molly told them the story of the past half-hour, and asked if they’d like us to drop in, or were they maybe not up to receiving company? And they said that they would very much welcome a visit from us. So they gave us directions to their house, and we stopped in to visit.

It would be hard to explain the ‘blessedness’ of our visit. Leah and Molly had gotten to know each other over the past five years or so, mostly by running into each other at a couple retreat weekends each year that they both went to. Somehow, they had forged a close friendship, and Leah had poured out her heart to Molly - all her sorrow and frustration over having been unable to conceive. Which was all the more poignant for Molly, the mother of eight.

So that, when we arrived at their house, it was actually a while before any words were spoken; tears and hugs were the first order of business. Finally, we sat down, and Leah poured out her heart once again – her elation at finally, finally, conceiving a child, and having it grow in her belly for ten weeks. The joyful, hopeful anticipation that the two of them were finally going to be parents together. Then, the first hints that something ‘wasn’t quite right’, and the ghastly process of expelling her baby’s corpse from her womb. The long frustration, turned to joy, turned back again to crushing sorrow.

And even amid all that, a ray of hope. That, even though their hopes had been dashed, even cruelly, still – they had conceived. Up to that point, they hadn’t even done that, and Leah was wondering if she even could. But now, at least, they knew that it was possible – her body was capable of becoming pregnant.

Molly and I had precious little wisdom to offer. Todd and Leah are both strong, mature Christians, and much as they wondered why – what could God’s purpose possibly be in what seemed to be a cruel taunt? – they remained firm in their conviction of His goodness. Which, given the circumstances, was pretty impressive.

“Even though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” (Job 13:15)

Or, as St. Peter said to Jesus,

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” (John 6:68)

Which, in times like those, can be a hard realization to come to. . .

It was a heart-breaking visit, but heart-warming at the same time. Looking back, it seems all the clearer, given how the circumstances all came together, that we were given this little adventure from God, to comfort our friends, who were in serious need of some comfort. And it deepened our friendship, in the process. A blessed time, indeed.


This whole adventure came rushing back to me when I saw Todd on a retreat weekend a couple weeks ago, and he told me that Leah was pregnant again. Coming home from the retreat, I told Molly, and she was guardedly excited for Leah, once again. The other day, I asked Molly if she’d heard anything from Leah recently, and she said she had – that Leah had miscarried again, this time at six weeks.

I cannot give easy answers to the question of why some of us suffer so. And why Leah, specifically – who, with Todd, would be wonderful parents – is suffering so acutely, and so cruelly, with infertility, while Molly and I struggle with the challenges of having more children than it sometimes (even often) feels like we can manage.

“How unsearchable are [God’s] judgments, and how inscrutable His ways.” (Romans 11:33)

True that, for sure. . .

Monday, March 16, 2009


A while back, my friend Sailor tagged me with a Friends Award. Of course, I am honored, and touched that he counts me as such. Dave is himself a very good friend, and any of you who haven't yet met him, I encourage you to at least wander by his place and say Hello.

Of course, these 'Tag awards' invariably come with a string or two attached, and this one is no exception. Forthwith, the obligatory explanatory paragraph:

“These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.”

Now, I've not often been accused of being 'charming', but I won't press the issue. As I said, I'm honored; and one oughtn't make a habit of quibbling with those who would honor one.

The award asks me (in point of actual fact, it doesn't 'ask', but I'll pass over the petty rudeness, and assume that that's what it means) to name eight friends of my own, and 'spread the love around'. I should note (well, I'm not sure that it's quite so 'should-ish' as all that) that, as a general rule, I don't do 'tags'; but this is an opportunity for me to introduce a few of my friends, who might not know each other very well, to each other.

Besides me, Sailor also tagged Tam and Redheadededitor, whom I have not previously met (but on Sailor's recommendation, I'll drop in on them), as well as Therese and different kind of girl, who are regulars here in the Yard, and they've been friends of mine for years. I would encourage any of my readers who haven't yet gotten to know them, to stop by and give them a nod. And also Sailor himself, who is the very personification of a blog-friend.

In addition, I'll tag:

Lime; I was introduced to her about a year ago by Bunny (back when Bunny was still a fellow-Michgander; but always a fellow-Spartan), who astutely pointed out that we were both adoptees, and might share some common ground. In the meantime, I've gotten to know Lime as a woman of real substance. Hers is a 'slice-of-life' blog, and her sense of humor is absolutely sideways. . . (Can I take just a minute to take Lime and faDKoG (the acronymic form of 'for a Different Kind of Girl') aside and introduce the two of you to each other? Lime, faDKoG; faDKoG, Lime. I think you'd really like each other; OK, now let's get back to the group.)

Xavier; his blog has gone thru almost as much 'now-you-see-it-now-you-don't' churning as mine has (I more-or-less gave him his current blog-moniker; he started his blogging life as XI Summit). But since I've known him, he's proven himself to be a wise and generous friend.

Flutterby; a real Sweetheart from Saskatchewan. I must have some kind of affinity for folks whose blogs seem to arrive and leave, and re-appear in a new form. Not that I'd ever do that. Another blogger who turns out to be a good deal more substantial than meets the eye.

I know the Terms of the Award tell me I'm supposed to tag eight others, but my tendency has always been to have a few close friends, rather than lots of surface-y ones, so I'll leave it at three (although if you count the shout-outs to Sailor's original tags, and Sailor himself, you can get to eight; but that seems like cheating, doesn't it?) Those of you whom I've tagged can do with the award as you deem best. . .

Thanks again, Dave; I really am honored, and touched, and all that. . .

Friday, March 6, 2009

You Say It's Your Birthday

Yesterday was 3M's 21st birthday (and just between you and me - when did I become old enough to have three of my children be over 21?). To celebrate the occasion, his godfather and I will join him tonight for his first alcoholic beverage. At least, his first legal one. (*sigh*) The number of times we’ve run into each other at the liquor store reminds me not to lay more significance on the event than it deserves. . .

We’ve always had a bit of fun with the fact that my first son’s birthday is two days after mine. On occasion, we’ve even had our birthday observances combined.

What’s more, both of us were born in leap years, so we both missed, by a matter of days, being born on ‘Leap Day’, February 29th. Being the odd ducks that we are, Molly and I always harbored a secret hope that among our children would be red-haired, left-handed twins; a February 29th birthday would be icing on the cake. We do have some left-handedness among our kids – 4M writes left-handed, but throws right-handed (given that degree of ambidexterity, I insisted that he hit lefty in baseball); and 8M is still pretty ambidextrous. But, alas, no redheads (and given the red highlights in my beard - at least before it went gray - we had some hopes). And no twins. At least, not yet. ;)

I did know a girl in college whose birthday was February 29th. So every year, we would gather at her room at 11:59 PM on February 28th to sing Happy Birthday to her, ending just after midnight on March 1st, figuring that somewhere in there was her birthday. (The same girl told us how, when she was in high school, she counted the time from her parents’ wedding anniversary to her birthday. Counting only 8½ months, she confronted her mother with the damning evidence; her mom responded, “Do you think you could maybe give us the benefit of the doubt for two weeks?”)

Anyway, when Molly’s due date with 3M was in early March, we instantly began hoping that he’d be a few days early, and come on the 29th (save on birthday parties that way, dontcha know). As the calendar passed into late February, we began to wonder if there was anything we could do to bring the baby into the world on the desired day. We talked about going for a drive on back-country gravel roads. As the weather warmed up, we even talked about going for a bike ride. We never did any of those things, but they were at least fun to talk about.

February 29th came and went, without so much as a false-labor contraction, nor any dilation. So we moved our focus on to the possibility that our baby would be born on my birthday (which was my 32nd that year).

My younger sister and I actually share our birthday (technically, I suppose she’s my step-sister – my mom’s daughter from her first marriage – but I’ve only ever called her my sister), which was the occasion of some teasing between us over the years. When our folks were first married, and our new family was very new, I used to tease her that it couldn’t be her birthday, because I had it first (she’s two years younger than me). But every year, Mom would make two birthday cakes. I don’t remember how the birthday parties went most years, but I do recall one year, my sister and her friends had a birthday party upstairs, while my friends and I had one in the basement, at the same time. God bless my mom for that. . .

Anyway, returning to the main story, my birthday, too, came and went without event. So at that point, the pressure was off; none of the subsequent days carried any special significance, and 3M was born two days after my birthday. Which, as it turned out, was his exact due date. And having a boy after two girls was nice, in its own way.

Of course, the birth of a child invokes all manner of hopes for the future, and wondering who the new little person will turn out to be. And, over the subsequent 21 years, his life, and ours, have gone places that we never would have imagined (much less hoped for). And that is just part of the richness of being human, isn’t it?