A Good Kind of Pain

A_baseball_and_gloveLast night I had a catch with my middle boy.

He’s 13 now, and we’ve had catches in the spring most years that he’s been able to hold a baseball in one hand. Well, maybe with the exception of those two years we lived in Alaska. I think maybe the weather kept us from having a real catch until technical summer.

We lined up with my back to the grill, where I could sneak over and turn the chops in between throws. He was out toward the southern fence.

The first throw hit my glove right in the palm, where the leather is thin, and your palm can really feel the contours of the ball.

It popped, loudly, with that pleasurable sound of leather on leather that sound equivalent of  the smell of fresh-cut-grass or peanuts or cheap beer and hot dogs.

The sound of baseball.

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Here You Are

Orland Park, Illinois
Orland Park, Illinois

I like to write on Saturday mornings before two thirds of the kids are awake.

It’s quiet, and I love the solitude minus the occasional interruption from the 9-year-old daughter who likes to ask me complicated questions about life when I’m trying to concentrate.

Last weekend I curbed my imbibing into a manageable martini and a couple of beers and woke at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, a good two hours later than my weekday schedule.

I settled into my comfortable writing spot on the couch, curled my legs under my body and hoisted my laptop atop my thigh to begin to work on a writing project that is currently in the creative stages but about to enter the dreaded editing and second re-write stage.

My phone rang around 8:30 a.m., about the time I was due for a short green tea break.

I didn’t recognize the local number, so I let it go to voicemail.

I picked up the phone a few minutes later and saw that the person had indeed left a message.

“Hello, my name is redacted, and I’m here with your son. He got lost from his running group, and he’s shivering and cold.”

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Note from 1–49 W Calhoun Pl in Chicago

Homeless Man (oil & wood)

The old man with long, brown and grey-streaked hair stood outside the train station muttering to the world.

It was three degrees. I could feel it, because I took my gloves off to check the temperature on my iPhone.

I could feel that familiar sting of air with barely a few degrees to it in spite of the bright sunshine overhead.

I could hear his words clearly, as I walked closer to the man.

“I don’t belong here anymore,” he said in a thin tenor to start the verse.

“You don’t know what they’re like, you don’t have a single clue,” he continued.

“I’m actually all right, all right,” he finished, as if practicing the words to a garage-rock song for a Friday-night pop-up show.

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The Storyteller’s Dilemna

Chinese Prison

I was listening to my son tell a story last night.

It’s the one where he gets arrested in Northwest China, along with a bunch of other young people and his grandparents, my mom and dad.

He loves to start with the line, “Oh, yeah, I got arrested in China.”

“What?” His younger brother asked, skeptically. “Why didn’t I hear this before?”

“Maybe because you run off to spend the weekends with your friends every chance you get,” his mother said, disapprovingly from her end of the dinner table.

That little interruption aside, Cole launched into the story, perhaps the sixth or seventh time I’ve heard it, but more likely approaching the 50th time he’s told it since he traveled to the remote region of China with his missionary grandparents last summer.

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Live storytelling in Chicago

Somewhere between my pre-school preacher years and high school, I came down with a bad case of stage fright.

I remember taking my first speech classes in college and being simply terrified of the crowd. I tried every trick in the book, and I even took an acting class to try to learn to be more comfortable with it.

My father is a preacher.

I am most certainly not.

So when CHIRP’s Julie Mueller approached me about doing the CHIRP’s live storytelling and music series called The First Time, I tried to think of every excuse why I shouldn’t do it.

Chicago is, perhaps, the world center for live storytelling right now. There is not a night of the week where you can’t find a themed storytelling event in any part of this city.

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Does modesty really make men behave better?

Fire Island Nude Beach
Fire Island Nude Beach

The first breasts I remember seeing as an adolescent child belonged to a Finnish woman who was sitting across from my brother and me in a sauna in the bowels of a Swedish ferry that was carrying us across the Gulf of Bothnia.

Though I was raised in Europe until the age of 7, my parents had moved our family back to the United States, where nudity was relegated to hidden colonies and Playboy magazines.

We visited friends in Austria on that same trip, and they invited us down to the local swimming pool for an afternoon in the water.

To our astonishment, the two teenage girls in the group disrobed in front of us, quickly pulling on swimsuits in a practiced and efficient manner.

They were not the least bit ashamed, but my brother and I, red-faced with eyes cast directly at the ground for fear of getting caught looking, took the time to find the bathrooms, where we changed into swimsuits as modestly as we could.

What was natural and normal to me in Europe had become a great mystery to me in the United States.

After reading a recent blog post by a woman who gave up wearing leggings because she doesn’t want to contribute to men thinking lustful thoughts about her body, I started thinking about the idea of what is really at fault in our society when it comes to nudity and sex.

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Teenage Politics

Politics

On Thursday, around our dinner table, I couldn’t help but think that my kids are becoming really great liberals.

If liberals means they espouse a political ideology founded upon ideas of liberty and equality.

We discussed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the State of the Union address, the economic impact of falling oil prices and, of course, school testing, a topic they are all too familiar with and opinionated about.

As I listened to each of them make a case for or an argument against some aspect of our discussion, it dawned on me that they have become what I had hoped they would.

Independent thinkers.

Thoughtful question askers.

Skeptical analysts.

I was fast becoming a Young Republican at their age, bent on making my worldview, the one I had fashioned as a second generation immigrant, work for me.

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Eating Fiji: They killed a goat for me

Peppers, curry powder, ginger, fenugreek and cloves are among the flavorings in Fijian goat curry
Peppers, curry powder, ginger, fenugreek and cloves are among the flavorings in Fijian goat curry

Food is a serious thing in the South Pacific.

It is labor, nourishment, hospitality and worship all wrapped up together with every other part of the distinctive cultures in the islands.

Food is gathered and pounded and wrapped up in leaves and cooked in underground ovens. And increasingly bought from store shelves and microwaved on countertops.

Food is simple, essentially what grows on the limited terrain and in the tropical climate, and yet it’s complex and strong, like an alloy comprised of different metals.

When I think of Fiji, I can taste the green coconuts I would pick up and drink from a hole in the husk on a hot afternoon.

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Pervasive Fear and Loathing in the Suburbs: Leaving your children home alone

Tools like Find my iPhone allow parents to track their children's whereabouts.
Tools like Find my iPhone allow parents to track their children’s whereabouts.

I want to establish something at the beginning of this post. My parents are amazing. They are loving, caring, protective and responsible.

The reason I say this, is because what they did to me as a child, directly relates to the way I’m raising my own children.

I don’t remember how old I was the first time I was left alone.

From the stories I’ve been told, I was a bit of a wanderer, often disappearing, leaving my parents to find me preaching to a crowd or singing songs in front of whatever audience I could find.

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The Lucky Hat

I went for a walk at half time and smoked a cigar.

It wasn’t a victory cigar.

It was a cigar of reflection.

I kept telling myself it’s only a game. It’s only a game. It’s only a game.

When I was good and cold, I walked back into my neighbors’ house to take a peek into that crystal ball and see what the future held.

The future still looks bleak.

It looks big and physical. Not pretty, just tough and gritty and textbook playbook. The way football has been played for more than a century.

Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

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"THE WORLD BREAKS EVERYONE, AND AFTERWARD, SOME ARE STRONG AT THE BROKEN PLACES." – HEMINGWAY