Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies 2020 Annual Meeting.

Still learning about this live-streaming thing. We’ll see how this goes. Herewith the link to CACS’ scheduled livestream event, which theoretically will thereafter be available as a replay video. I’ll try embedding it too, to see how it might go.

Here goes! Catch ya on the flip side.

Thank you, Homer Softball girls.

My two daughters, aged 11 and 8, played with an 18U softball team this summer. Now, we had talked about trying softball previously at some point, but of course figured that would be (at least mostly) at age level, and thus (at least mostly) at skill level. This being the year it is, however, the combination of a) pretty much everything else canceling completely on us, and b) the consequent need for more players to make a viable 18U softball team in the first place, made this arrangement work the way it did. It was a first for both of our girls, and we tried to set their expectations…optimistically, but also soberly. Full fastpitch play, among other players up to twice their age, starting from little more than a cursory introduction to throw-and-catch at home…well, let’s say we were prepared for it to be the very definition of “a growing year”.

And it was. But not for the reasons I was steeled for. It was actually the very best kind of growing year, due largely to the attitudes of the older girls toward the younger ones.

See, I wasn’t prepared for them to be superheroes.

Before the first practices, trying to empathize a little bit, thinking about what it would be like to be a high school senior softballer, with years of effort invested, suddenly faced with the prospect of perhaps that final season being no season at all, for reasons entirely beyond the possibility of control…well, frankly, it would seem very understandable to be frustrated by having to scale back so much, and suddenly to be playing alongside wide-eyed newcomers not yet out of primary school, in order to be able to play at all. Not the way you dreamed it, for sure!

It’s not like I was expecting anyone to be snippy or rude or anything like that, but I gotta say that I just wasn’t quite prepared for how far the other way these girls went. All the older girls went out of their way to welcome and work with the younger ones, with encouragement and patience, good will and trust.

And it was clear this was their choice, too. What I saw was authentic encouragement and mentoring, at every practice and pretty much at every turn. It wasn’t rote or plastic “attagirl”s; rather it was real encouragement, dozens of little things, with suggestions for improvement and challenges to do better–because they believed the younger girls could do it.

And it wasn’t just encouragement on the softball skills, either. Toward the end of one of the last practices, my 8yo got hit by a pitch, and you could tell both that it hurt, and that D didn’t like it that it hurt; her cry was mostly of frustration, and D wears her frustrations pretty openly. The older girls first immediately made sure she was okay, then gave her all the space she needed, and then welcomed her back with encouragement once D had composed herself. (Which she did…rather faster than she usually does.)

This episode was like a miniature clinic in how to be classy and respectful. The way the girls handled it was perfect; no adult could have done better.

Speaking as a dad, it is hard to overstate how meaningful and important that is to me: not only for my girls to be on the receiving end of such class and respect, but for them to be able to see, first-hand, how well it can be done.

To the older girls* of Homer Softball: thank you for your time this year, for your attention and encouragement, and for helping to show my girls what class looks like.

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* In highlighting the older girls, here, I mean to take nothing away from our wonderful primary coach, whose carriage and comportment is very much the same, and seems to have made a similar (and welcome) impact on my girls.

Mud Games 2020.

It’s that time of year again, and although it’s certainly been a bit of an extra challenge this time around, Cathy has managed to put together a Mud Games for Sunday, July 26th that, in my opinion at least, manages to still capture the spirit of where it all started (see below if you don’t already know about Mud Games), while balancing it against the specific challenges and anxieties of our present moment in time. As she said, it’s a bit different this year, but it’s on!

I’m particularly proud of her for coming up with the parallel idea of the Goosechase virtual component, for anyone who isn’t comfortable with the idea of a synchronous in-person visit to the Wallow;  holding that game open for a week’s time will hopefully get at least a few people to take advantage of the Wallow on their own time and comfort level, even if it isn’t part of the traditional in-person event. (And Goosechase looks to be a total blast anyway; I hadn’t known about it before. 🙂 )

We’ll be working on clearing the Wallow this week, and are looking forward to making the event available to people with as many reasonable accommodations as we can manage.  We realize it may wind up being very lightly attended for a host of reasons, but the mud will still be there for those who need it!

What is Mud Games?

In a nutshell, Mud Games is an annual summer event brought to Homer in 2010 by the late and much-missed forces of nature otherwise known as Carmen Field and Lisa Matlock. The idea is simply that there are some kids who, for a host of reasons, never really get a chance to play in the mud; so, why not put on an event, with a prepared mud wallow, in which playing in the mud is the point entire?

It has thus become one of the highlights of our year. There are always a few kids who come for the first time and clearly are not quite sure what to make of it; usually with a parent trying earnestly to make it clear that it really is okay. (This is a special kind of adorable.) On a whim, during one of the early years when it seemed like the vibe among the kids was a bit too reticent in this way, I thought I’d help make the “really, guys, it’s okay” point a bit more obvious…and so became Mud Monster Dad.

It was the kids’ job to pile mud on me. This is after a good bit of scraping off!

It worked, and even became kind of a thing over the next few years. What I’m most happy about, though, is that the role of Mud Monster Dad is simply no longer needed, because in the last few years now, the kids just pick up whatever incentive they may need from the other kids. The vibe is still very friendly and accommodating even for the first-time, I-still-don’t-know-about-this kids.

At some point I should probably go back and write up more of the history of this wonderful event; given how important it has been to our family, I’m a little surprised I haven’t done that already.

Coastal Cosmic Telethon.

Don’t look now, but Yours Truly is going to be skippering his very first live-stream event this Sunday, July 26th, from 3-7pm. The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies (on whose BoD I currently serve) is this year putting on its annual fundraiser in virtual form, in the guise of an old-fashioned telethon…but modernized, and Homer-ized.

I am totally new to the landscape of livestreaming, but also I are a nerd, and when CACS suggested I design and run the stream, I of course enjoyed all the T&E and crash-course learning that has gone with it. We’re going with the “Creator” subscription to the Lightstream service, and will be using CACS’ existing YouTube channel as the stream host. If we play our cards right, people will be able to view the livestream straight off the CACS home page.

The ideas are legion, the spirit is fun, and the technology demands may not be trivial; we’ll see how it goes, obviously. But I’m proud to be a part of the effort, and I suspect that if we even get half of our ideas out and in play, it will go over quite well and we can be happy about it. Hopefully we even raise a little money. (If you don’t know about Coastal Studies, it’s a really great organization that has been very important for my family; I am really happy I’ve found a way to give back for all CACS and its people have done for us, way back to the first years we arrived in Alaska.)

Placemat art.

At the family ‘s suggestion, I’ve long meant to get a few of these captures up here, but you know…life happens, etc. Also, I have to admit it still feels a bit strange to actually call myself an artist.

Cathy rolls her eyes at me a bit about that, and she’s probably right that I am generally more creative than I give myself credit for, but still… Artist, in my mind, seems too….important, somehow, to be me.

Personal commitment to humility aside, I suspect I may be caught in the same trap I got myself into with music, for all those years: believing it to be so important that by definition I would have to be on the outside, as a consumer of the art, rather than on the inside, as a creator. I can now see much more clearly how needlessly stifling that perspective is, but even now, I still have to work at it.

Anyway, I’m getting better at recognizing my own creativity, and also at recognizing that it’s creativity I’m usually most interested in, when it comes to any art form. Part of it of course is my kids, who seem to like to think of Dad as a creative person, and as someone who seeks it out in others whenever he can.

The ongoing placemats project

And so a few years ago now, Cathy introduced our family to what might be called the placemats project. She’d choose some arbitrary stock-art line-drawing, print it out on 8.5×11, and each of us would color it in to our taste; she would then faux-laminate each with clear contact paper, and voila, we’d each have our own placemat.

For example, here’s then-two-year-old Murray’s very first one, with just a few age-appropriate scribbles to add to the baseline we all started from:

He was understandably quite pleased with it, and everyone else wound up with some lovely-looking raspberries for their placemats.

Not me, though. After I looked at the starting drawing for a bit, what I saw instead was this:

Continue reading “Placemat art.”

A Mr. Shannon moment.

I had a Mr. Shannon* moment last night, when reading the climactic chapter of the Roald Dahl classic The BFG to my five-year-old boy. The way it worked out, Murray’s two older sisters (eight and eleven) sat in as well, intending at first to be reading their own books silently while I read aloud, but pretty quickly, and clearly, paying much more attention to the antics of the BFG, Sophie, and the Queen.

I had my usual (horrible) character voices in full swing, and this was one of those classic climactic Roald Dahl chapters, in which lots of characters loudly exclaim various astonishments about the absurd shared circumstance in which they have found themselves, each in ridiculously butchered idiom, ad seriatim, ad infinitum…

You know, whizzpoppin’ glorious.

As I began to realize, while reading along, that the girls were not only paying as much attention as their brother, but were even starting to lead the charge in the uncontrolled giggling, I also realized that I had already started to interact with this vibe, organically, playing it up to all three of them even a bit more: just a little more amplitude in the body language, a little sharper bite to the (bad) character accents, …

…and suddenly, in my mind, even as I kept on reading to my own kids in meatspace, I was BACK, at Clear Lake Elementary School, in Mr. Shannon’s room, as he read Roald Dahl to us in exactly the same manner.

A memory I couldn’t forget if I tried.

Some gifts really are too big for words. (Even for me, whose, um, quantity of verbal vomitus has long had somewhat of a reputation.)

In an increasingly absurd world, simple humanity becomes a superpower. Thank you, Mr. Shannon, for letting me borrow your cape, even for just a few moments.

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* I was incredibly fortunate to have had Mickey Shannon in both third and fifth grades. Of all the treasures he gave us, I’m not sure anything, for me at least, tops the simple act of reading to us…like he meant it. Some forty years later, that sense of joy is still there, inspiring.

‘Sorry Dad. It’s mate-in-two.’

I’ve already gushed a bit about both girls‘ impressive development in chess, and it’s no secret that they are both fully capable of beating me outright at this point. And so it wasn’t that big of a surprise when (11yo) Sabre came to me, recently, and with a grin on her face, led with “Sorry Dad. It’s mate-in-two.”

Once I realized that she was talking about our latest ChessKid game (Sabre has a knack for the non sequitur, and I was on my way out the door at that moment), I sighed and smiled, and figured I’d check out how she’d got me during lunch break. (She’d had me on the run for the last few moves anyway.)

She had, indeed, put me at a mate-in-two, and so I looked around for what I might be able to do at least to make her earn that two.

And so it happened that we both learned a lesson that day. Because, as it turns out, there is a way to beat a mate-in-two.

(You can see my queen peeking out from behind the “you won” popup, which tells the tale.)

I wish I could say I had that planned all along, but frankly I only saw it while preparing for my own defeat. What I’m most proud of, really, is that I din’ say nuffin’ about it, allowing her to find out herself the next day.

Her nonplussed expression was totally worth it.

And at this point, I’ll take my little victories wherever I can. (When I say she can now beat me outright, that’s at my best, in a slow, asynchronous ChessKid game where I can devote full attention with no time pressure. What she and Dee can do to me in a timed game, is best described as murder.)

Anyway, it gave me a chance to trot out both Yogi Berra (“it ain’t over ’till it’s over”) and Mark Twain (“rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”), and that’s never a bad thing.

I’ll take it as a good reminder for both of us.

Homer High graduation 2020.

This wouldn’t normally be the sort of thing I’d post about, but I do think it deserves a shout out. Along with everyone else, we’re currently going through a pretty tiresome period of “redouble your efforts after losing sight of your goals”, and without giving over to editorializing about the details of that, I do not envy anyone who had real skin in the game of Homer High School’s 2020 graduation process. What a mess, to try and make that happen!

Well, I’m feeling the need to make the shout out to those who did make it happen, because by all accounts it was not only a smooth success, but actually memorable on its own merits. (Meaning, not just because of all the asterisks that will appear in the historical record next to pretty much anything that happened in 2020.)

As it happens, I still have on my plate a little video editing to do for the whole official capture, but in the meantime, a lovely little bird clued me in to this clip put together (by the third-party videography outfit) as a sort of teaser for the event. (Thanks, Cathy.)

You know, I found that rather impressive.

I had, myself, only a tiny involvement in the event process. My group provided the network backbone (and standby support) to connect the onsite technology to the Internet, and I built and tested a couple of long network cables to provide the extra robustness of a physical wire for the school’s streaming machine. I got to observe during a few of the planning meetings, and see how it was intended to play out. But really, that was it.

It appears everyone involved did a truly wonderful job, and although I have no regrets at my choice not to be there (the family was, that night, camping at a public-use cabin for Feral Son’s fifth birthday, w00t!), I think it would have been an honor to be there. The ideas, and their consummation, just strike me as pretty first-rate, even before adding in the imposed limitations.

And from what I understand, it wasn’t just the small crew of staff that made it this way, either. Apparently a lot of it–the ideas and the work–was the kids themselves. That’s so gratifying, and encouraging. I’d argue that if you pay attention to the things you see in this clip, you can see both the inspiration and the hard work coming through–and making it look easy.

We live in a time where it is easy to forget what human beings can accomplish if they come together, voluntarily–not politically–to solve a problem. This looks, to me at least, like a refreshing reminder that this is always possible, and I’m always appreciative of reminders like that.

Nicely done, everyone. May you all carry that success forward with you, and do something human with it.

Murray channels his inner Edward Abbey.

So… It was not too much before midnight last night, with everyone but me long gone to sleep, and I myself was wrapping up with the day’s final constitutional. Rising above the glorious peace and quiet, I heard the telltale sound signature of (freshly 5yo) Murray heading for, and then down, the stairs. Knowing with certainty that I would shortly hear a little knock on the door (our house is a one-seater, for the five of us, and these late-night patterns are well-established), I finished up, flushed, and gently opened the door.

No Murray.

Okay, so he was probably back into the adjacent school room, as he sometimes is, not quite hiding among the shadows in there.

Nope.

Hm. I hadn’t heard him go back up…he wasn’t in the kitchen… “Murray?” I was positive the boy had come downstairs, but…nothing. Weird.

Then I saw the front door, ajar.

Instant panic.

I was at the front door in a flash, heart racing, eyes everywhere (keep in mind, it’s still light at this time, in the back half of May), prepared for nearly anything…and there he is, not a foot outside the front door.

Pissing right off his front porch just like Edward Abbey.

That’s a new one in Proud Dad Moments, but I’ll take it.

‘Nothing Changes As Long As You Obey’.

Stipulated that I know nothing of either the author or the website, this powerful article stands on its own: Nothing Changes As Long As You Obey.

Therefrom:

The real Martin King, however, was a minister who exposed the truth that obedience keeps us in chains. His crucial synthesis was to combine disobedience with goodness. His crucial work (and this is greatly under-appreciated) was to hold disobedience and goodness together.

Whoa, yes, absolutely. Very much worth a RTWT.

Author Paul Rosenberg here seems to state, briefly and elegantly, the primary crux of so many of our modern politically-driven predicaments, in a way I always seem to stumble to articulate. It needs a bookmark here so I can refer back to it when necessary.