3.30.2011

Twins discuss important matter

So I kept seeing this image of two diaper-clad boys popping up on my TweetDeck and news feeds today. I had no doubt there was some new, big viral hit sweeping across the interwebs.

Tonight, when a relative became the latest person within my social media circle to post the link, I finally took time to watch.

It's no wonder the video has become such a hit.

I realize I'm like the 3 millionth person to post it, but just in case you haven't seen it yet -- or you want to watch it again -- here it is ...

It is what it is

There's a saying we've adopted in recent months in our home and at our workplaces: It is what it is.

If I'm not saying it, or my coworkers aren't saying it, we're overhearing someone else say it. It's everywhere.

And when I thought about it tonight -- after hearing the phrase yet again -- I concluded it's a testament to the mood of our overburdened nation these days.

Which made this Onion read even more amusing when I saw it ...

3.28.2011

A children's time

All over town today it seemed as though people were talking about Phoebe's performance at church yesterday.

Let me explain.

So Kates had to play in the bell choir during yesterday's church service, which leaves me to take care of Phoebe in the pew by myself while Kates sits in the balcony with the bell choir. That factor alone makes me extremely nervous.

Then comes the children's portion of the worship service, and every Sunday is the same. At first Phoebe doesn't want to join the rest of the children at the altar, but a few minutes later she says, "I want to go." ... Kates and I have two choices: Escort her to the already-started children's time or tell her we can't go because it's already started and risk her bursting into tears. It's a no-win because either decision is going to result in half the congregation staring at us.

Yesterday, I took her to the children's time. After leading her to the altar to sit with the rest of the children, I tried to back aside to an adjacent pew, but Phoebe insisted I sit next to her. Another no-win.

As the children's sermon is continuing -- and we're sitting in front of the entire congregation -- Phoebe proceeds to crawl under the communion rail, curl up and lay down on the floor of the altar area, using her infamous blankie as a pillow.

Even as the woman leading the children's time instructed the kids to get up and follow her to another area of the sanctuary, Phoebe stayed where she was, lying on the floor.

The whole time I'm thinking, Please don't get any worse. Please don't get any worse. Please don't get any worse. And Kates, who is watching all of this unfold from the balcony, is clenching her teeth.

Finally, the children's time ended and the kids filtered back to their seats. I swooped up to the altar area and pulled Phoebe into my arms, while members of the congregation laughed at the scene.

Yes, every other person Kates and I encountered at our workplaces today, it seemed, had something to say about Phoebe's performance at church yesterday. Fortunately, they all loved it.

3.27.2011

Crazy madness

My NCAA tournament bracket -- which had held up miraculously well during this crazy tournament year -- officially died at about 2:40 this afternoon when the No. 1-seeded Kansas lost to the No. 11-seeded Virginia Commonwealth.

I may not have cared about yesterday’s games. But with North Carolina and Kansas forecasted in my championship game, I was sitting in prime money territory heading into today’s games.

Neither survived.

I had a hunch Kentucky would take care of North Carolina, but a Kansas loss … aye.

The Jayhawks repeatedly shot themselves in the feet by trying to match VCU’s three-point shooting and not pushing the ball inside. Plain and simple.

Ah, well. I wasn’t too attached to this year’s team anyway. And I was prepared for this, given that No. 1 has rarely been good for Kansas, and the favorites have been dropping like flies during this tournament.

The legend of 2008 lives on.

As for the office pool, after a quick skim, the facts are amusing. When it’s over, not one of our 56 participants will have predicted the national champion. What’s more, not one participant correctly predicted any of the teams eligible to play in the championship game. Only four people predicted one of the remaining teams left in the Final Four. (I should've gone with Butler ... )

With three games left to play, the final standings are already sealed -- and the winner picked Duke to take it all.

For the record, I’ll finish in seventh place.

(Updated: 04.01.2011) Good reads ...
a Rock choke: KU stumbles again in Elite Eight
a Bill Self’s Knack for Being Liked
a Uncanny Partnership of Morris and Morris
a Teams take their best shot at Goliaths like KU
a V.C.U.’s Brightest Star May Be the Head Coach
a Cinderalla, say hello to Cinderella
a The MVP of the NCAA tournament: The mute button
a Head-Scratching Plays Dominate the N.C.A.A.
a Squeezing juice from tourney
a Coaches Calhoun and Calipari Share a Genuine Dislike
a For Butler’s Stevens, a Career Change Paid Off

3.26.2011

Crummy

It’s been a crummy day.

I’m feeling the frustration of not accomplishing near as much as I’d hoped during my spring break.

This is about the time I tend to get burned out on the NCAA basketball tournament. The first three rounds are exciting. But by the Elite Eight games I’m usually feeling like a hostage to the TV and thinking, C’mon, let’s get on with the Final Four and wrap this thing up. That mentality usually has a lot do with how well my bracket and favorite teams are doing. ... Not to mention the distractions of my personal life. Trying to settle into a new house. Work. Parenthood.

Worst of all, it snowed nearly all day. After a couple weeks of beautiful spring-is-here days and warm temperatures, watching the big white flakes falling outside our window today nearly made me cry. Or just groan really loudly.

Then, there was Phoebe, who was in rare form today.

While Kates took off for the day on a shopping spree, Phoebe and I stayed in The ‘Ville to run some errands and take care of things around the house. We went to the recycling center. She got a sucker during our stop at the bank. We stopped at the post office where she played like a monkey on the metal bars that divide the lobby area. At the library, she picked out two new movies for the week and played a Dora game on the computer. For lunch, I made her a peanut butter sandwich in the shape of a butterfly -- just the way she likes it.

Then she refused to take a nap and the rest of the afternoon was an adventure in parenthood.




If I wasn’t scolding her for doing something she wasn’t supposed to be doing, she was throwing a tantrum about something she couldn’t do. And the madness continued right up to the point we tucked her into bed at 7:15 tonight.

When Connecticut finished off Arizona -- which was another black mark on my day because I needed an Arizona win to help my standing in the office pool -- I turned the TV off.

The silence never seemed so golden.

3.24.2011

A basketball run

Traditionally, in The ‘Ville the football team grabs all the headlines -- for the last 15 years at least.

This winter, something changed. Our women’s basketball team, which customarily rests near the bottom of the conference standings, put together a season for the ages.

The team’s core group of players gelled and, with a stroke of luck in the fall, the team added a 6-foot 4-inch center, who had finished a Division I volleyball career. … They started the season 4-3 and then reeled off 11 straight wins and won 18 of their last 20 regular season games. They won the conference title and the conference tournament title, and eventually the regional title.

Along the way, I caught the fever. The women’s games turned into can’t-miss affairs, while the bleachers emptied for the men’s games … In past seasons, it had been the other way around.

So Tuesday night, the women were playing in their first-ever Elite Eight round of the women’s basketball tournament. Even better, the final games of the tournament were being played at the civic arena just 45 minutes down the road.

I watched Tuesday night’s game online, and it was a thing of beauty. Our point guard came out and nailed four three-pointers in the game’s first nine minutes. When the opponent tried to stop her, our women lobbed it inside to one of our two centers for an easy basket. Our Cats dominated, and moved on to the Final Four.

So last night, I decided I couldn’t watch the game from home. No matter the outcome, I wanted to make sure I experienced the Final Four in person. … The atmosphere was electric, and our green and white clad fans outnumbered the fans of the other three teams, combined.


The Cats grabbed the opening tip-off, scored the opening two points, and they appeared to be on their way once more. A fast start was always a good sign for them.

But the opponent, Tech, tied the game immediately, and we never led again.

It was a frustrating game to watch in so many ways. It seemed as though nothing was going our way and everything was going theirs.

Our women kept trying the things that made them so dominant Tuesday night and so successful throughout the season. But Tech repeatedly tipped away the lob passes inside, and our point guards weren’t hitting from behind the arc. Our team shot an awful 35 percent in the first half.

Tech, it seemed, was hitting ev-er-y-thing. Heck, they were flinging the ball to the basket, legs flailing, and the shots were still dropping. Our tight defense was constantly pushing them to the brink on the shot clock, and we even forced turnovers on a handful of shot clock violations.

But every time we got to turning the table -- we tied the score five times, but never took a lead -- they’d drain another errant-thrown three-pointer.

When the final buzzer sounded, our women had lost the game, 89-78.

It was a fun, magical ride.

3.22.2011

Happy

I returned to work today. It’s still spring break, which for me means I still have to report to work -- albeit a calmer, quieter one void of students and faculty and meetings. … Today, I had hoped for a productive day in my office. Didn't happen.

My problem is I set my standards for “productive” so high that I’m always let down when I don’t cross everything off my list.

The better part of my day was the nightcap.

With Kates at her school for her parent-teacher conferences, I got the privilege of picking up Phoebe from the daycare. … We drove home in the rain. And the theme continued as she threw a tantrum about her dinner choices.

Then the rainbow appeared.


It was welcome distraction for Phoebe and I. The rain subsided. We ventured onto the deck and into our new backyard to look at the rainbow.

Then Phoebe grabbed my camera and started taking her own pictures … Here's a sampling of what she captured. There's actually some cool, abstract stuff here.






Then, like the flip of a switch, she was done with the camera and became occupied with her sandbox.

In the meantime, I took to the basketball goal. ... I’ll tell ya right now: That basketball goal is going to help me relieve a lot of stress. I’ve been dying to have my very own basketball goal since a family move left my last one behind on a quirky sloped driveway in Kansas. Some people play golf to blow off steam. When I worked in smalltown Illinois several years ago, I headed to the batting cages. Now I have a basketball court in my back yard, and it doesn’t cost me anything.

Once Kates arrived home, she cooked up some pasta and our little family gathered around our dining table -- after days of frozen pizzas, takeout and fast food -- for the first official home-cooked meal in our new house.

Aftterward, I put some more time into painting and fixing up the kitchen as I watched my beloved Bearcats play in the women's basketball’s Eight Eight.

I have not been so happy or so content in a long, long time.

This whole house thing was worth the wait.

3.21.2011

Spring bliss

Today is my first day of spring break. And it is good.

I got Phoebe to daycare this morning and dove into repainting the kitchen. … I didn’t confirm with Kates that was part of my plan today, so that was a nice bonus this evening to see the glowing expression on her face when she arrived home. We took it from a bold lime green to a neutral beige that better fits our style and decor. The cabinets remain white.

I spent the day painting with “Sportscenter” on the TV in the background all morning and then the Red Sox-Phillies spring training game on in the afternoon. Just me, a paint brush and sports on the TV. It doesn't get better than that.

Last night our friends Gina and Jeff stopped by the house and kidnapped Phoebe for a couple hours, which gave us precious time to finish organizing the kitchen and, more importantly, our bedroom. … We spent last week living out of our suitcases and picking whatever clothes we could find within arm’s reach amid all of the boxes and trash bags of belongings. And we couldn’t bare to begin another week that way.

We’re slooooooowly getting settled.

March Madness!

The first weekend of March Madness is complete, and -- dare I say -- I’m liking where my teams are sitting.

I nearly didn’t fill out a bracket this year.

In the midst of all the chaos in our lives the last few months, I’ve watched exactly two college basketball games this year -- Kansas’ thriller over UCLA early in the season and then No. 1 KU’s loss to K-State, which I predicted given KU’s reputation for playing inconsistently and complacently on the big stages, not to mention the tense in-state rivalry and that the Jayhawks were playing in The Octagon of Doom.

It’s also worth noting that, after making our move, we didn’t have a TV last week until I made a run home during my lunch break Thursday and set it up so I could catch some of the basketball. Thus, I missed all of the talking heads on ESPN analyzing every team, picking the sleepers and influencing my picks.

And speaking of the TV coverage, I am loving the new partnership between CBS and TNT/TBS/TruTV. When the deal was announced last year, I wasn't keen on the games being shown by a network other than CBS -- it just seemed wrong -- but the the ability to watch any tournament game of my choosing -- or flip back and forth to watch bits of multiple games -- this weekend, and not a regional matchup of the local network's choosing, has been a dream come true -- or should I say Tru.

Still, I’ve watched, read and listened to enough sports highlights this season to think maybe I had a shot of at least being in the hunt for some prize money. I threw my bracket together on Thursday morning, just hours before the tournament’s opening games and submitted it for the Funnest Office Pool Ever.

Given my lack of time and knowledge of the competition this year, I didn’t fill out a bracket for Phoebe, as I’ve done the last two years. Next year I’ll get her into it again.

Usually, I’m liberal with my upset picks, but I played it conservatively this year -- once again because I haven’t watched enough basketball to feel confident in any major upsets or have many doubts about the higher seeds. … I picked two No. 11 seeds -- Marquette and Missouri -- as my only upsets. As it turned out, Missouri -- the one of which I was more sure -- was the only 11 seed not to advance.

As for my Final Four, I went with three No. 1s -- Duke, Pittsburgh, Kansas -- and No. 2 North Carolina, which I’m betting puts together a good run in the tournament. I then put North Carolina and Kansas in my championship game with the Jayhawks winning it all.

Don’t ask me why I’m picking Kansas to win it all. Any one who follows them closely and understands their tournament history knows this cannot end well. But I seem to fall for it every year and place them at or very near national champion status. ... Although, now it looks like they'll have a cake walk to the Final Four with the way the high seeds fell in the Southwest Region this week. But never say never.

And now, at the close of the first weekend, would you believe I’ve ranked as high as No. 4 and no lower than No. 9 in the standings (out of 60-some participants)? ... So far, it's paid off to stay with higher seeds -- teams like San Diego State, BYU and Florida -- that I might not have backed in typical years. I also was a believer in Wisconsin, which I picked to beat K-State; the Badgers play tough defense, and I thought K-State was overrated.

Only now, after watching this weekend’s games, I’m wishing I had Butler and Ohio State going deeper. Butler is looking like they still have the tournament mojo that carried them last year. ... The ending of the Butler-Pittsburgh game last night was the most mind-boggling, make-you-want-to-scream-at-the-TV ending to a game I think I've ever seen.

And Ohio State is looking so good that I’m starting to think I took a big risk by having North Carolina beat them in the Elite Eight round.

I’m also watching Connecticut closely. My bracket has UConn advancing to the Elite Eight before losing to Duke. Given the run they put together in the Big East Tournament, I’m thinking the Huskies could be one of the toughest teams to knock out of the tournament, or they could be dropped any time.

Good reads ...
a Perfectly improbable: A flawless NCAA bracket ... “By taking the classic 64-team bracket, the number of possible outcomes for those games is 9 quintillion, 223 quadrillion, or 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. So if everyone in the worldfilled out a bracket once a second (impossible), it would still take them about 42 years to fill out all the possible combinations.”
a NCAA Tournament’s beauty rests on a bracket
a The Onion: Office Pool's Low Number Of Bracket Printouts A Reminder Of How Many Employees Were Laid Off Last Year
a Will bigger field scare folks out of the pools?
a The Awkward Officiating Dance at the N.C.A.A. Tournament
a Madness worth watching
a Talent Is Nice, but Luck Is Vital

3.20.2011

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Sitting at the kitchen table this morning. Basking in the sunlight of our new back windows. Catching up on some reading. And continuing the good vibrations I was feeling yesterday. And today is the first day of spring.

I came across this good read from The New York Times a couple weeks ago about Daylight Saving Time. It's quite amusing to read some of these facts, and I ended up reading almost the entire article out loud to Kates ...
By the mid-19th century ... But all these clocks were like many Americans themselves: individual, conforming to their own notions. There were hundreds of local times, each city setting its city hall or courthouse clock to match its own solar noon. When it was 12 p.m. in Chicago, it was 11:50 a.m. in St. Louis and 12:18 p.m. in Detroit. But that wasn’t a problem because local time was all that mattered. 
Who knew?

3.19.2011

Home free

We’ve been in the new house for a week now, but a large part of it still looks like it did on the first night we stayed here.

Our house play went on the backburner this week with me and Kates splitting our home time with me at lectures at the university -- I got to hang with Meghan McCain Wednesday night -- and Kates at parent-teacher conferences.

But today, we started clearing the boxes. Kates spent the day organizing the kitchen; I cleaned out the garage and worked in the yard.

Kates was teasing me because I couldn’t stop smiling.

Are you kidding!?

I’m in my glory!

I have a yard!

I have house projects!

I’ve been waiting 14 months to get this back!

3.17.2011

7 graphics that will blow your mind

So I got this in an e-mail from Kates mom today ...

The subject line: All weird but no 7 will blow your mind

Pretty much. Every one seems to get better than the last ...

1) Is This Possible?


2)

3) Are the purple lines straight or bent?


4) Do you see gray areas in between the squares? Where did they come from?


5) You should see a man's face and also a word...
Hint: Try tilting your head to the right, the world begins with 'L'


6) This graphic is not animated. Your eyes are making it move. To test it, stare at one spot for a couple seconds and everything will stop moving. Or look at the black center of each circle and it will stop moving.

But move your eyes to the next black center and the previous will move after you take your eyes away from it.


7) Relax and concentrate on the four small dots in the middle of the picture for about 30 or 40 seconds. Then, take a look at a wall near you -- any smooth, single-colored surface. You will see a circle of light developing. Start blinking your eyes a couple of times and you will see a figure emerging ...

What did you see? Moreover, who did you see?

3.14.2011

Ode to the duplex

As of 10 p.m. last night, we are officially out of the duplex.

After a week of transporting boxes to our new house and spending most of Saturday moving our larger furniture, we dedicated yesterday to moving the remaining boxes and leftover belongings and giving the place a good cleaning.

We skipped church and I was back at the duplex by 9 a.m., stuffing another load of stuff into our Forester. After a couple trips to the house, Kates and Phoebe joined me at the duplex. And later our friends Gina and Kim arrived to pitch in with the cleaning, even taking a car load of stuff to the house before heading to their homes for the evening.

While Kates took care of Phoebe back at the house, I made my final trip to the duplex around 9 last night. Made a final sweep of the closets. Vacuumed every room. Worked really hard to secure the car door because the car was busting at the seams, and I refused to make one more trip. And finally locked the door behind me and drove away.

I was utterly exhausted from my late nights of painting and long hours of moving but motivated by the fact that we reached an agreement to vacate the duplex by today and we’re sub-leasing it for the remainder of the month.

More to the point, I really disliked that place, and I wanted us out of it once and for all.

There were the carpeted bathrooms, which also didn’t have exhaust fans, creating a haven for mildew.

There was the faulty electricity and the living room outlet where chords had to be plugged in at just the right angle for the light, the computer, or whatever, to operate.

There was the community lawn mower and the severely sloped yard. Yard work is one of my favorite past times, but I would come up with any excuse I could not to mow that lawn.

There were the neighbors across the street who left their howling dog chained in the front yard at all hours of the day and night.

Our driveway constantly doubled as a parking lot for the next door neighbors’ kids and their friends, whose cars were almost always blocking ours.

I also won't miss the way that crowded driveway could be such a distraction when Kates and I tried to back our cars out of it and the constant maneuvering we had to do to get around cars. The bumpers of our cars suffered because of it; there were at least three fender bumps in the 8 ½ months we lived there.

I won’t miss the nasty draft that passed through every nook and cranny of that place. The plastic crackling over the windows from the cold air blowing through them. Or the fact that we had to wear sweatpants and sweatshirts to bed to stay warm most nights. Or how Phoebe spent most of the winter sleeping in our bedroom because her downstairs bedroom was like an ice box … and we were too nervous about the electrical wiring to turn on the aged wall heater in her room.

I won't miss how even on the sunniest of days, the place still felt dark and dingy.

I loathed that place.

Ah, but some day we’ll look back at these months and laugh, I’m sure. From so many of the conversations we had with people we’ve met in The ‘Ville, living in one of those duplexes when you’re trying to get settled here is a rite of passage.

I won't deny we had a lot of good times in that duplex. It’s where we reunited our family last June. Phoebe and I would fall asleep together on the couch watching baseball games. We played nightly games of tee ball and soccer in the back yard. We blew bubbles and colored with chalk on the front steps. It’s where Phoebe and Kates became Bearcat fans. We cheered the Packers to a Super Bowl win. We lived through Snowmageddon there. And we had some epic dance parties.

It was bad. It was good. And all of it is a memory now.

3.12.2011

Moving day

And we're in.

Our new house.

Phoebe's in her bed in her new room, and Kates and I are preparing for bedtime as well.

I'm far too tired to go into much detail about all of the ups and downs of yet another move ... I'm seriously second-guessing what prompted us to think we should do this moving thing again. And yet I can't resist the urge to document this special night.

After bringing several car loads of boxes to the house throughout the last week, today's mission was to move the big stuff. I booked a 10-foot moving truck last night and we picked it up around 9 this morning. By 10, a couple friends had arrived at the duplex to help us load it.

We got it done in three trips -- the distance between the new house and the duplex is just two blocks, a left turn and one more block -- but all of the heavy loading and unloading took us until past 2 this afternoon. My back aches terribly, bringing back bad memories of the pain I suffered for months after our move in June, and I felt like I was going to pass out toward the end of the ordeal. Water was my best friend.

Eventually, this afternoon, Kates had to make a trip to the store, and I did pass out. I fell asleep on the couch, and Phoebe curled up not too far away from me on her blanket on the floor.

At this point, I suppose I should mention that I hadn't slept since I rose for work yesterday morning. Thirty-three hours.

Crazy as it sounds, that was sort of the plan the whole time. I got out of bed with the mindset that I was going to get through my work day and then really push it during a nightcap at the house. I was determined to complete as much of our painting as I could ... Initially, we figured we'd have no problem repainting rooms before moving in, but those hopes were dashed when our closing was delayed a week.

So I spent the night putting the finishing touches on Phoebe's room and got a decent start on our downstairs family room. This morning I watched the sun rise and the way the morning light lit up our new kitchen was just as beautiful as I'd imagined.

At about 6:30 a.m., Kates, having awoke without me next to her, texted me.

"Are you ok?"
"Yep. Just painting," I wrote back.
"You're crazy! Did u sleep at all?"
"I know. Nope."

At that point I was afraid if I laid down for even a few minutes, I'd be out for hours. ... I snapped a photo of Phoebe's freshly painted room, with some of her favorite stuffed animals lined up on the floor and waiting for her, and I sent it to Kates' phone. She received it just a few moments before I arrived back at the duplex and had shown it to Phoebe, who was bouncing gleefully at the top of the stairs when I came through the door.

A few other random thoughts and memories that will stick as I reflect on this day ...

Twelve years ago, I never could have imagined my college life science teacher would be helping my family move into our new house. But today he did. And his wife, who used to schedule my newspaper interviews with the university's communications director all those years ago, is now a close friend, co-worker and a wonderful carer for Phoebe. The way those relationships have evolved blows my mind.

When I packed my belongings into my Toyota Camry on a snowy December day 10 years ago and headed north for Wisconsin, I also didn't imagine I'd be bringing so many of those same belongings back to The 'Ville. And yet, here they are. Heck, I still have the first laptop I bought in college.

We had Chinese takeout for supper tonight. After all of the happiness Chinese takeout dinners brought us in K-Town, it seemed fitting to do it tonight.

Phoebe has reached a level where her imagination is running wild. This morning, with the moving process fully underway, she was playing with the remnants of our bed frame, running from room to room in the duplex, retrieving her stuffed animals and all types of other objects, placing them within the bed slats and calling the area her farm.

Life is good.

3.09.2011

Painting

I was at the new house until past 8 p.m. Monday taking down wallpaper and prepping for my week of painting. And I was at the new house until about 1 a.m. last night -- er, this morning -- painting Phoebe's new room.

Phoebe's room, by the way, will be a lime green -- aka western wild asparagus -- with a stripe that's pink -- aka fragrant rose. Initially, Kates and I talked about painting her new room an all-out girl's pink, or staying with the yellow she has in her room at the duplex, or even going nostalgic and painting it with the organge she had in her room in K-Town. ... But whenever we've asked Phoebe what color she wanted her room to be, she's been consistent: Green! And that's how we ended up with a room that is lime green -- aka western wild asparagus --with a stripe that's pink -- aka fragrant rose.

So tonight I took a break from painting at the new house to see, well, a painter.

David Garibaldi was scheduled to perform at the university tonight. After weeks of helping promote his appearance and getting fairly stoked about this 28-year-old guy who painted giant portraits of pop culture figures -- set to rock and hip hop music -- I decided I'd better check it out.

The performance was billed as this "amazing sensory experience" and titled "Rhythm and Hue."

Indeed. With the music pumping through the theater, Garibaldi was bouncing all over the place and flinging his paint brush at a 6-foot tall canvas propped in the center of the stage. At times, he'd forget the brush, drop his hand in a paint bucket and wipe his fingers across the canvas to enhance his painting. When he finished each painting, he stamped it with his hand print in a corner of the canvas.

Between paintings he offered an engaging motivational message, too. What are you doing with your gift? he asked. Go after the things living in your heart, as crazy and different as they may be to others, he said. We're all creating our own self portraits whether you know it or not.

With Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" rocking the theater and lights flashing, he jumped and tumbled around the stage while he recreated one of the iconic Hendrix images. Later, he painted President Obama to a soundtrack of hip hop beats and excerpts of his speeches backed by chants of "Yes, we can."

With all their nuances, it's hard to pick a favorite, but Garibaldi's last painting might have been the one I picked -- had I the chance to select a piece for the new house. This time, painting to a percussive track, Garibaldi began by painting a series of white flecks and strokes. As the image started to take shape -- the buzz that moved across the theater seemed to prove the audience realized it at once -- it became apparent Garibaldi was painting Albert Einstein -- upside down.

The fun didn't last -- for me anyway. Near the end of the performance I got a little restless and reached for my Blackberry to check e-mails. It was then that I saw the slew of breaking news alerts announcing Wisconsin's Republican senators found a way to bypass the missing Democrats and adopted the governor's union-busting budget bill.

My heart sunk and the fury of it all grew inside me again.

Check out this audio slideshow of Garibalid's performance.

3.07.2011

When it rains, it pours

It's raining today. In more ways than one.

It already had been a tough weekend. Phoebe and Kates fell ill, and I was racing back and forth from the duplex to our new house with car loads of belongings. ... The good news is the old place and the new place are only a few blocks apart. But we have little time to waste because there's a new family set to move into the duplex, and we agreed to vacate the premises a week from today.

I took the today off from work so I could continue moving our belongings to the new house, take care of a laundry list of errands and begin work on some of the wallpaper tear down and painting we're hoping to finish before we make the move to full occupancy next weekend.

Everything was going fine. For once I had enough time to eat breakfast. I watched part of Enchanted with Phoebe. I got her ready for school. We were leaving for school ...

And then my car wouldn't start. Perfect.

After turning the ignition switch again and again - and again - I sent a text to Kates with the unfortunate news.

Luckily she was in a planning period and could break away from her school day to rescue Phoebe and I. Once she arrived, I took her back to school, finally got Phoebe to the daycare and then called for a tow to take the Little Green Machine to the service station.

As I suspected, it needed a new battery. The mechanic said he could do the job in a half hour. Great.

So at about 11 a.m., I could finally begin working on the things I'd planned to start doing around 7:30.

Eventually I landed at Walmart and waited for what seemed like another three and a half hours for someone to mix the paint I needed. At the checkout counter, I came upon an older woman who was commiserating with the clerk about the trials of her day. The woman said she was on her way to spend time with her sister who was battling cancer; the woman added that she was undergoing cancer treatment herself -- and her cow gave birth to a calf this morning.

"When it rains it pours," the clerk said.

Suddenly the troubles of my day and my rinky dink car battery didn't seem so bad.

I made a couple more rounds of transporting boxes to our duplex, the house and back, and finally settled into work at the house around 2.

I so wasn't looking forward to an afternoon of tearing down wallpaper. But as luck had it, some friends loaned us their steamer and once I got it going -- I went to town. I had the whole room finished in a couple hours.

At 5, Kates was finished with her school day, I picked her up and we retrieved the Little Green Machine. Kates took it to pick up Phoebe at the daycare, while I returned to the house to resume my work.

When Kates and Phoebe arrived at the house with another picnic supper, Phoebe bounded through the door, shouting, "Daddy your car works!"

3.05.2011

Closure

The house hunt.

When we last left you, we’d looked at 39 houses.

This thing we’ve been calling an adventure was more like an odyssey.

We saw No. 40 sometime in December. It’s a distant memory now. Another poor showing like so many others that wasn’t worth mentioning at the time. Interestingly No. 40 stood just a few doors down from No. 35, which at that time was still the most desirable on our list. … No. 39 was a dingy ranch with a kitchen that was about the size of the average bathroom. The basement was large but unfinished. The backyard, which was tiny, sloped severely into the house. Like so many others we saw, it needed a lot of work, and it was overpriced.

So we pressed on.

We kept pushing for No. 35. A two-story with a pleasant-looking fa├žade. Good-sized bedrooms. A finished basement. An open floor plan. A good neighborhood. A beautiful yard. … It needed some updates, but we were convinced it was the best we’d seen -- and might ever see. We were getting desperate.

The problem: It was overpriced. We made an offer in the fall, but the sellers countered, and we walked away. … We kept our eyes on it, had an appraiser go through it for us and made another offer in December. The sellers countered again, and again we walked away. Even while our intelligence and research told us the home was overpriced, the sellers would. not. budge.

Kates and I were thisclose to giving up the search, settling for duplex living and making the best of it.

* * *

Then Christmas arrived.

Amid a sea of changes that occurred at the university during that week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, a couple I work with announced they were leaving for a new career opportunity. Looking to sell their home quickly and aware of our situation, they suggested it could be a perfect fit.

We took our first peek at it during the first weekend of the new year. And it was love at first sight. It was everything we had been looking for and more. The similarities to our beloved house in K-Town were striking.

A raised ranch with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a finished walk-out basement, a large fenced-in yard and hardwood floors. … But it got better. There was, of course, the two-car attached garage. The home had new windows, among several other major improvements. There also was a second below-ground basement with a bathroom, creating a whole extra level; previous owners rented the extra space to students and it was ripe for using as guest quarters, or for resurrecting my museum and using as a home office. Perhaps best of all, there's a basketball court in the back yard that was ripe for years of family basketball games.

We really wanted make an offer, but there was a slight obstacle. The sellers were not working with a realtor, and we were -- a realtor who had patiently shown us 40 houses over the course of nearly a year and was allowing us to rent her duplex at a pretty good rate without a long-term contract. … We felt bad enough about taking a look at the house without our realtor. Kates and I thought it was the right thing to stay loyal to our realtor, and we talked ourselves out of making an offer.

But when I told the seller of our decision, she left the door open for us. It was the kick Kates and I needed and -- to make our long story shorter -- our realtor graciously gave us her blessing to move forward without her.

* * *

So we moved forward. And the sellers accepted our offer. The initial discussions and then the transactions after we broke from our realtor were so smooth that the realization we might finally have a home was a little anti-climactic, almost too good to be true. In fact, Kates and I had been so tortured by the whole house hunt -- 10 months, 40 houses, four failed offers and several other close calls -- that we weren’t taking anything for granted until the papers were signed and we had the keys.

For those same reasons, we tried keeping our negotiations quiet. But in a small town like The ’Ville, it wasn’t long before people were stopping us at school, at church, in the grocery store, and saying things like Congratulations, I hear you’re buying (insert sellers’ names) house!

We kept the process moving. When it came time for the inspection, I called in “The Deal Breaker” again, and his opinion the second time around was quite the opposite of the first. Repeatedly he said, “Yep, somebody put a lot of work into this house. I wouldn’t walk away from this one!” Music to our ears.

Soon after that, the appraisal came in -- and it was lower than the sales price we’d agreed on. Under the conditions of our agreement, the sellers had little choice but to agree to the appraised value. Or the deal would fall through.

That’s when things started getting interesting. Our original agreement called for the sellers to pay our closing costs, but our loan conditions -- while the appraisal worked in our favor -- made it highly unfavorable for the sellers to pay our closing costs. Kates and I now had to come up with the money for closing costs, in addition to the 3.5 percent down payment that was already required for us to close the deal.

We crunched the numbers, got some lucky breaks, and decided we could make it work. The closing date was set for Friday, Feb. 24.

* * *

Oh, but after all we’d been through, it could not have been that easy. The day before the closing, I received a message from our bank representative saying the closing was being delayed for a week because the necessary paperwork wouldn’t be complete.

To say we were frustrated was an understatement. All parties had agreed on the terms of the contract and the bank's hold-up on the paperwork was driving us mad. … As if that wasn’t enough, I received another message Thursday that the closing date was in jeopardy again. As of 1 p.m. yesterday we still were unsure whether we’d be closing the deal or dealing with another delay.

But soon after that, I received a voice mail. It was on. Kates and I went to the title company at 3:30 p.m. yesterday ( ... Only after yet another bit of drama. Just before Kates was about to leave school for the closing, the daycare called her to report Phoebe was sick and vomited. Kates picked her up, our friend Gina met us at our duplex so she could watch Phoebe, and Kates and I went off to the closing ...)

By 4 p.m. the paperwork was signed. Finally, we are homeowners again.

Afterward, we returned to what's quickly become "the old house" and relieved Gina from her baby-sitting duties. After all, Phoebe was jumping on the couch when we walked in the door.

We wasted little time packing some sandwiches and snacks and headed for the new house. After weeks of talking about it, Phoebe finally got her picnic on the living room floor -- with strawberries. 

Our excitement is indescribable. For 15 months, we've been sitting here in limbo. Those first six months of living as a divided family were hard enough. But even after our family began living together again and we moved into the duplex in June, very little about our lives felt stable. We'd acquired good jobs, we became engrained in the community -- but we never felt settled.

We didn't have a place we could truly call home.

Now we do.

Back to the future: Irina Werning photography

If you like vintage photography as much as I do -- which is a lot -- this project is worth a look.

The similarities in some of the subjects' expressions are striking.

3.04.2011

3.03.2011

Music: All This Beauty

I've been on a big Belle & Sebastian kick this week ...

And this one is leading the charge. Man, this song rocks.



* * *

I'm stoked for a new Death Cab For Cutie album.

I'm even more stoked for new episodes of VH1 Storytellers.

* * *

The Yellowbirds new video for "The Rest of My Life." Gorgeous.

Also worth watching ...

3.01.2011

On Wisconsin

I sat up and started taking notice on a Friday more than a week ago. Feb. 18.

Sitting at the desk in my office, I started taking notice of all the tweets and status updates rolling in about protesters converging on the Madison Capitol building. Having just finished watching days of unrest in Egypt, it appeared as though another rebellion -- with major backing, like the situation in Cairo, from social media users -- was about to play out in our old backyard.

I texted Kates. "I'm thinking Wisconsin is going to go all Egypt on Gov. Walker."

Then again, Paul Krugman smartly wrote the situation has more similarities to Baghdad in 2003.

Even as we sit miles away, Kates and I have been paying close attention to the news coming out of Wisconsin since that first Friday about Walker's budget bill, which would severely limit the bargaining power of public employees. News feeds and Facebook connections keep us uprised of the latest developments. Several of our family members and close friends have participated in the marches protesting Walker's proposal. And if we still lived there, there's a good chance we would have been marching, too.

It saddens us to see unions and public workers so discounted. Ok, livid when we read and watch some of the news reports. Kates has been moved to tears ... The fact that it's causing such divide in family circles and busting friendships is heartbreaking.

I get that budgets need to be balanced, tough choices need to be made. Every state faces the same dillemma. But as so many journalists have noted, there are other ways to solve the budget crisis in Wisconsin. And union workers already have offered finacial concessions. ... Whether the 14 Democratic Senators who fled the state to defy a vote on the measure are acting nobly or cowardly is another debate.

Growing up and preparing for our careers, Kates and I never saw ourselves as union people. Never in a million years. ... But eventually, each of us slipped into a union as part of our respective jobs -- she as a teacher, me as a journalist -- and both of us saw the immense benefits of unions first hand.

It's not a matter of having extra powers over employers or non-union workers. Believe me, there were limits to participating in a union that flustered me, too ... Rather, it's a matter of having the basic right to negotiate for benefits and wages. Plain and simple. It's a benefit all employees would be lucky to have.


And the idea that teachers have it easy because the kids leave at 3 in the afternoon and they have summers off? Don't get me started about the early mornings and late nights Kates spends at her school in meetings, conducting parent-teacher conferences or preparing projects. Or the nightly paper-grading sessions on the couch. Or the Sunday afternoons she spends in her classroom preparing for the next week. I'm only scratching the surface.

Now, I've joined the public education sector. Not because I thought it would be easy -- I'm working harder now than I ever have in my career -- but because I find it exciting. It's an area I'm passionate about, proud to be part of, and I want to make a positive impact on young people.

We'll continue to watch the debate closely.

Good stuff ...
a Majority in Poll Back Employees in Public Sector Unions
a The Best Wisconsin Protest Signs
a The Open Capitol blog
a Union Bonds in Wisconsin Begin to Fray
a Thank You for Your Support. Now, Can We Sweep the Capitol?

The Daily Show's coverage of the debate has been marvelous. Our pal Jon Stewart is behind us.

Tuesday morning, 7:30 a.m.

Tuesdays aren't my favorite day of the week.

Kates has to report to school early on Tuesday mornings for team meetings. Which means I have to fly solo with Phoebe. Which can be a tough task in the morning, even when Kates is around to help.

At 7:30 a.m., with no sign of Phoebe waking up, I went in to her room to gently draw her out of bed. Oh by the way, I turned Mickey Mouse Clubhouse -- one of her favorite shows -- on for her to watch when she arrived in the living room.

Phoebe got up, gathered up her blanket and waddled to the living room. And began crying, Mommyyyyyyy!

"Phoebe, Mommy's not here. She had to go to school," I told her.

The crying turned to sobbing.

Then, upon seeing Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on the TV, she ran toward it, shouting, No, I don't wanna watch Mickey Mouse! She proceeded to turn off the TV, and collapsed on the couch, clutching her blanket, and continued to cry for Mommy.

After explaining that Mommy had to go to school and I would be taking her to daycare -- just like I do every morning -- Phoebe calmed down and I gave her the milk she requested.

Things went from bad to worse.

She refused to get dressed. Nooo! I don't wanna wear that underwear! she cried.

She was frustrated her hair was in her eyes, so I offered her favorite pink head band. Nooo! I want the white one! she cried.

Nothing was going the way she wanted.

She put her socks on backwards. My socks are messed up! she cried.

She had hardly stopped crying from the moment she awoke.

I tried putting her coat on. Nooo! I want my sweatshirt on first! she cried.

Even the way I was dressing upset her.

I put my coat on, but left it unbuttoned. Button it all the way, Daddy! Button the top button! she cried.

Now things were just getting hilarious.

I started putting her shoes on. I had her right shoe on her right foot. Nooo! That goes on this foot! She ripped her right shoe off her right foot and proceeded to force it on her left foot.

Finally, with her coat on and zipped, and both shoes on the right feet, and her beloved blanket in her arms, Phoebe ceased crying, stood up, took my hand and we walked to the car. Just like we do every morning.

Our ride to the daycare is our bonding time, and I try to make sure I soak it in every day.

But Tuesday mornings are rough.