Monday, October 25, 2010


When I was in high school, one focus of the sports curriculum was learning how to be sportsmanlike. It was easy to distinguish teams whose coaches rewarded classy behavior, as opposed to teams whose aim was to win at all costs. I never had a prayer (or, honestly, a desire) of qualifying for college-level sports, so I appreciated that, most of the time, my school wasn't on the cutthroat side of the equation.

Even now, when DH and I are watching an NFL game, for instance, we take note when an opposing player helps up the guy he just tackled. Our favorite sports matches are the historic rivalries that involve players who are all friends with each other, like the Packers-Bears game in Chicago a few weeks ago.

I think what makes the story of Zach Beckman's touchdown last weekend in a high school football game in Mount Vernon, Indiana, so nice is that the coaches of both teams involved, as well as the student-athletes on the field, saw an opportunity to give a real lesson about sportsmanship to the rest of the players, and then followed through with it. Or - and this seems more likely - they weren't even thinking about the lesson, they were thinking about the best thing to do.

If high school football was televised, I'd be rooting for Jasper High School all the way.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Getting priorities straight

When this post goes up, I will probably be packing up the car, preparing to pick up my buddy's little sister from college. She's riding with me and DH out of state this weekend, and we've plotted out the music lists, the junk food, the gas money - it's a road trip we've been anticipating. At this point, my buddy's sister is like unto a sister to me, too. She's a cool kid.

The reason for the road trip is, like many trips we've taken in our mid-to-late-20s, a wedding. This wedding, though, is a little different from others I've attended lately.

The groom, whom I will call Bro, is the brother of my fellow traveler, and has been my friend for roughly 26 years, which is fairly impressive when both parties are 28 years old. Bro and I grew up together in our rural town, and each moved away approximately thirty seconds after high school graduation. We both wound up in cities in the Midwest, living the start of the kind of lives we'd both hoped for back in our often-boring farm town. For both of us, those lives (eventually, as I'm glossing over years of hits and misses) included finding someone with whom to share the joy and the mundacity of everyday life.

Each of us sought some kind of seal of approval from the other about our potential life mate. When Bro met DH, the two of them hit it off almost immediately, which was a huge plus in my mind. When I'm not taking it for granted, I appreciate that my oldest friend and my husband are big fans of each other.

A month or two after DH and I got married - an event for which Bro flew himself in, dutifully wore a suit, and proceeded to make friends with both the bartender and everyone in attendance, because that's what he does in social situations - Bro had a date with a woman I'd already heard about many times before.

This is the hard-to-explain part: I'd first heard stories about the Speaker (she's a speech therapist and I'm terrible at nicknames, OK?) from other members of our high school class. She went to college with a couple of them, came back to my home town several time for big events, and met plenty of members of our class and folks from our town. I was probably 19 years old the first time I heard about the Speaker. And what I heard was consistent from all sources: she was cool, she managed to avoid most drama that arises when a group of college women live together, and - everyone said this - she was funny.

Here I will admit that I generally didn't pay much attention to stories about the Speaker, because it seemed unlikely that I would ever meet her. She was a friend of some acquaintances and her inclusion in a story was just one of those details people would leave in.

And then Bro went on a date with her. Followed promptly by a second date.

I wish I could remember where I heard about it first, but I remember thinking it was strange, my friend and this friend-of-all-our-classmates dating. They'd been dating for a few months when they visited Chicago together and stayed with me and DH. The Speaker had heard about me from all our shared sources the way I'd heard about her, which made for this bizarre situation of two people, having heard about each other for years, staying in the same apartment for a weekend.

If there's such a thing as an advantage in such a situation, I had it: we were on my home turf, I was only meeting one new person while she was meeting two, and those two people were her hosts for the weekend. I later learned that she'd been quite nervous about meeting me - she had really wanted to make a good impression. The situation was made a little more strange by the lack of first-meeting formalities. I already knew where she was from, where she'd gone to college, what she did for a living, who many of her friends were... so what does one ask about at that point? It could be awkward.

She needn't have worried. At some point during dinner, Bro said something moderately funny, and the Speaker made a immediate and hilarious comeback quip that almost made me choke. I laughed out loud, but I'm sure I followed that up with staring at her - which probably made her feel like an insect. Because I'm a great hostess like that.

I was staring at her because - and it still hits me sometimes - I cannot believe how perfect she is for my friend. And he for her. They are great together.

So last winter, on another trip to Chicago, Bro proposed to the Speaker, and she accepted, and we celebrated with them all weekend. DH and I were thrilled for them, and we were looking forward to the wedding, but also to, hopefully, years of just hanging out with the two of them as a couple of boring married couples.

When they started planning their wedding, they gave themselves plenty of time - a year and a half - and chose a date in April 2011. Bro would send me the occasional link to a venue, or an idea they had. Over the summer we visited them and we got to see the proof of their invitation suite. The party was going to be amazing and large and lots of fun.

And then, in August, when DH and I had just gotten home from a week's vacation and were just beginning to settle, our phone rang. It was Bro. The tone of his voice was somewhat grave. A disorienting split-second of serious worry struck me: they're breaking up. They're calling it off. Whatever happened, I need to talk him out of this.

"So, I have a question," Bro said.

DH saw the worry on my face and signed that he wanted to know what was wrong. I indicated that he should hold on a second.

"Yeah?" I asked.

"If the Speaker and I... " break up? Have an earlier-than-anticipated baby? Move to Abu Dabi? He was taking way too long with this.

"If we didn't do the wedding in April - " oh, crap. Are they really breaking up? No way.

"But we had a wedding in October, instead - " WHAAAT?

"Would you come to it?"

I hopped up and down. "HELL YES, we'd come to it!"

DH looked totally confused. I put my hand over the receiver and said, "they're eloping! Sort of." To which he replied, "AWESOME!"

Bro explained, "It's just, planning this thing is really starting to stress the Speaker out, and every time I see how much it's going to cost, I start to get sick. And we just want to be married, and buy a house someday, and have kids..."

"So, you want a marriage, but not necessarily a wedding."

"Yeah, exactly."

And thus, in about a week of plan-changing, the enormous springtime wedding in a rented hall with 200 people and a DJ became an intimate autumn ceremony in a park with less than 50 people. DH and I were looking forward to it before. Now we're beyond excited.

Of course, any time this wedding comes up, DH says, "they're doing it right. They're so smart." And I feel compelled to say things like, "We didn't know squat about wedding planning when we got married; we did the best we could."

Then we both remind ourselves that our wedding was really fun. Which it was. But DH is right: there's no denying that we'd do things a bit differently - a bit smaller and simpler - if we'd known then what we know now.

As it is, we get to live vicariously through our brilliant friends. This weekend will be full of good friends, good beer, some tiny pies, a few nerves, some dressy clothes, and a festive dinner after the formalities. As a bonus, my mother - a justice of the peace who's known the groom as long as I have - is officiating the ceremony, so I'll get to see my parents on the wedding day, too.

In that way and in many others, this feels as much like a family wedding as my brother's wedding last month felt. In which case, I'm so happy to welcome the Speaker to the family.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

No, seriously, think of the children

I promise there were more pleasant topics about which I was going to post, but when I saw this article about a pertussis outbreak in California that's killed 10 babies so far, I almost threw up. So I'm writing about this.

If you were to meet me in person and we were to talk about vaccines and you were to tell me you weren't going to vaccinate your children, I would consider punching you in the throat. And then I'd probably go through with it. There's zero reason for people not to vaccinate their children - especially against highly lethal, completely preventable diseases - and there are many, many reasons to do so. Sadly, 10 more reasons just manifested themselves in California, and it probably isn't going to change anyone's minds over there.

Wow, schmei, get over yourself. You don't even have kids. Who gives you the right?

Good point. Allow me to explain:

My father was the youngest of 4 children. He had two sisters and a brother. Only, wait, he never met his sisters. They both died, several weeks apart, of pertussis, commonly called whooping cough. The older girl was almost two, and her little sister was only a few weeks old. Some infected asshole decided to stop by and visit my grandmother with her new baby and her toddler at home. Over the next few weeks she watched, completely helpless, as whooping cough killed them both.

The pertussis vaccine came out about 2 years too late for my two aunts.

My grandparents went on to have two more children - two boys - and I can't help but wonder how it affected my grandmother, to lose her baby daughters and then to have two boys instead. Maybe it was better, really, because they were completely different. I don't know. By all accounts she was a loving mother to her sons. Additionally, from what I've heard about her, she never really recovered from her daughters' deaths. She died young, and still heartbroken. Her sons were in their early twenties. They're both in their sixties now, and they don't really talk about it much.

Last year, my graduate program ordered me to get a pertussis booster, which I thought was annoying at the time. But I read more about it, and it turns out that in adults, pertussis vaccination can wear out over time. It's recommended to get a booster every five years or so.

I was very glad I had the booster before I met my newborn niece. And I'm glad my sister is completely reasonable about vaccinating her baby, because the study that claimed a connection between vaccines and autism was terribly flawed and has since been recanted. Sis is a scientist so she gets that... but it's information that really doesn't require a degree in physics.

Sadly, recanting that article hasn't stopped stupid people from refusing to vaccinate their children. What those stupid people don't realize is that it's not their own children they're killing, most likely it's other people's infants.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Re-standardizing the test

The master's thesis on which I'm making (glacially slow) progress is in educational policy. My specific interest is in adult education for imprisoned or formerly incarcerated adults, but there are plenty of factors that go into school kids growing up to be adults with criminal records and without high-school diplomas.

When I was still doing course work, I was part of a cohort of 12 other Master's level students in my program. Roughly half of my classmates were already school teachers, mostly in public high schools in Chicago. Since my experience is really only with nontraditional adult education, I appreciated their perspective. Essentially, they were trying to keep their kids from ever getting in to one my programs. I'm fine with that - it's the kind of work I wouldn't mind putting myself out of.

Any time the topic of standardized testing would come up, the tension in the room would escalate, and discussion would be uncomfortable at best. Every teacher has to deal with standardized tests now, and in many schools the students are subjected to high-stakes testing every two years at the least. I've read in the past about how some states make their tests as easy as possible so their schools aren't listed as "failing" - which is a slap-shod solution to a real school policy problem.

Now the state of Illinois is doing something different. The claim is that the ISAT test isn't less difficult, but a student's score can now be lower and still count as "proficient". I especially appreciate that one of the folks who is angered by the implication that Illinois could be manipulating the test - ("they'd have to be... lying to us") so more students will pass is a man whose job title is "director of research and assessment" for a school district. I'm fairly certain that's a position that didn't exist ten years ago.

I'm sure this is because I've worked in programs that don't receive government money, for the most part, but when we've used standardized exams such as the TABE , the purpose was to establish the adult student's base line of knowledge so the teacher had a starting point from which to work. I actually really liked the TABE - it was a good gauge of adult ability without being insulting in the "You can't really read good, so you must be stoopid" way that some literacy-level materials can be.

I can recall taking the California Achievement Test when I was in fifth grade. The CAT test, as we redundantly called it, was basically used as standardized-test-taking practice and as an evaluation of individual student abilities - much like the TABE is used with the adult learners I worked with. No teacher was going to be fired over CAT test scores, and it was something we took as kindergarteners and as fifth-graders... and that was it.

I looked up the CAT test, and it appears that it's now only used by homeschooling parents. I guess times have changed. And I guess even homeschoolers are taking standardized tests.

All this is to say that, like most educational-types, I'm not opposed to standardized tests as a whole. I think they can be a useful tool for both students and teachers. But they're almost never used properly - rather, test scores are used to exclude students from colleges and professional schools, to punish "failing" schools and teachers with drastic moves like replacing the entire staff, and - in my mind, this is possibly the worst part - to take up valuable instruction time with test drilling. When the most radical re-thinking of standardized tests is to make them harder to fail (but magically not "easier"), I can't help but think that post-prison education is a need that will be around in this country for a long, long time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's getting better

I think Dan Savage is right. I could just end the post there, because I've know that's true since I started reading his advice column when I was in college. I mean, sometimes he's talking about kinks that make me need to draw out a diagram so I can understand them, but even with those, he's probably always right.

Anyway, recently Dan Savage wrote that he thinks the United States is nearing a tipping point in terms of LGBTQ rights. Yes, he despairs at the end. But I think he may have been correct at the outset. People who wouldn't have thought about or talked about gay rights are thinking and talking about them. It seems that everyone in this country is required to have an opinion about gay marriage, gay adoption rights, health benefits for gay partners, etc. Having an opinion about it requires acknowledging that the population exists - which, hey, means we're at least ahead of Iran.

And of course Savage and his husband Terry started the "It Gets Better" project, which was beyond the correct thing to do - it's brilliant. There are so many videos there now that a person could spend days watching them, which is what some people - especially some brutally bullied kids - need to be able to do.

I wouldn't even begin to try to watch them all, of course. But when Savage posts a featured video on his blog, I'll sometimes watch it. And this one made me - a cradle Catholic struggling with the battle against the church I love and the loving God I want to know - cry everywhere.

God bless you, Bishop Robinson.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Now back at me

By now I'm sure almost everyone has seen The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.

But I don't know if everyone has seen this. And to miss it would be a shame.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Despite the lack of activity around here, I have been thinking about this blog. Blogs are kind of stupid, really, unless you actually have something to write in them. A blog that hasn't seen a post in over 6 weeks is really kind of a waste of bits.

Last year I tried participating my own truncated version of National Blog Posting Month, which was a good exercise. This year I think I'll try something similar, but I'm actually going to let myself be OK with doing the sort of thing I do on facebook: post a link to something interesting and say something _short_ about it. I have drafts of at least 5 long articles that got to about 800 words and then started to trail off. So I'm going to try to finish those, too.

This isn't really for you, readers, since none of you exist. This is an exercise for me. I've been a quitter since childhood, and I'm especially adept at quitting creative projects, or, more accurately, I'm well-practiced in putting projects on hiatus. I have a 70-percent-completed blanket that I started to crochet before DH and I were even engaged. I have some paint supplies that I've basically never used. A beautiful and neglected mandolin hangs on the wall of our apartment. Our sewing machine has seen a little use - because DH has made a few nice things for me.

Yes, I'm still finishing my master's thesis, slowly, and yes I'm working full-time (and I'm in the United States! We NEVER GET TIME OFF!) and months like September of 2010 will happen now and then - I'll tell you about that, possibly. The short story is that it was busy with Family Obligations - but I'm either going to maintain a blog or I'm not.

For now, we'll stick with maintaining it.