Boiler Up!

Tonight I’m off to a new experience: hanging out in the rafters in the Boston Garden to cheer for my alma mater, the Purdue Boilermakers, who are in the Sweet Sixteen!

Even though it’s the late game, I’m excited to do my part. After all, when might these lucky stars align again, sending the Boilers right here to my (adopted) home town? Perhaps taking the midnight train will feel like walking across the quad from late night study sessions. I was only in West Lafayette two years, having spent the first two years at a regional campus. But still, I’ve been to Mackey Arena, hoped and watched the team through other NCAAs and now they’ll take the floor just down the road, a short commuter rail train ride away.

Campus memories return easily if I carve out time to look back. The tough methods class in biology (LOTS of lab time); living in the Windsor dorms and then in Meredith Hall working in a position people now call an RA (we were “counselors” back then); I was even able to be part of the Blizzard of ’78 which totally dates me. And all those walks to the early morning Physics lab:  howling winds across the Engineering Quad to arrive by 7:30 am. Brrrr.

Fast forward to the chance to wear some black and gold and be Indiana for a while. We’ll put the day and week of crazy Boston weather behind us, and hope for a victory to speed the late arrival of spring.

“Hail Hail, to Old Purdue, all hail to our old gold and black, Hail, Hail to Old Purdue, our friendship may she never lack….Ever grateful, ever true thus we raise our song anew, of the days we’ve spent with you all Hail, our own Purdue”  ba ba ba ba ba baaaaaaaaaaaa, ba ba ba ba ba!!

This is going to be one off my (Oaken) Bucket list that I never knew I had.


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A Most Remarkable Small Thing

Last Friday was a work-at-home day, what with all the recent storms and schedule adjustments. It afforded a huge chance to catch up on the home front: power enabled the laundry, vacuum, drying, baking, email and a host of other operations to take place. Manual tasks also brought some cleanliness and order: scrub a few walls here, fold a load or two there and, relevant to this post, take some deep hand sweeps under the kitchen’s radiant heating vents down low behind the dog’s dish and what we call the Boot Box.

“But I must go further back,” states a quotable line from a favorite film. And I must, for another part of this story involves clearing out my earring mismatches two weeks ago and the dresser on which they sat. Many years ago one of the kids gave me a hand-painted, hinged box for small things, and for decades it has lain flat open to catch my earrings or other randomly found but potentially precious objects. That day, besides earrings, it held buttons for the comforter, odd screws, and the Jasmine doll’s curly white slipper. I’m pretty sure that slipper has inspired a blog post or poem along the way.

Still, I mowed through the drawers and this box, gathering the flotsam. I paused at the slipper as I must have done before. After all, somewhere in the attic was Jasmine herself, and I’d kept this shoe in this spot for at least 10 or 15 years. But no, I took it out: it was time.

Fast forward to the detritus behind the dog dish, and yes, you could write the story from here. One sweep of the hand revealed, of course, the other Jasmine slipper. After all these years, had it really been right there, all the time? Of course it had…and perhaps, upon reflection, since 2003!

My mind raced back two weeks to the moment I held the first slipper in my hand. Had I discarded it, finally giving up the hope that had kept it in my little box for years?

I had a sense that I hadn’t really parted with it despite its disappearance from the open little box. Mothering four children has left retentive roots on small things (and lots of artwork.) I went back to the earring box and it wasn’t there. But…had I dropped it with other sifted treasures into the attic Lego bin? It seemed I could see that in my mind’s eye.

So I sprang up to the attic bin and pushed my hand down where my muscle memory led me: on the right side and down in front. There was the other slipper. I hadn’t thrown it away, and now…I had a matched set!

On this Monday morning, a seemingly long way from Friday’s find, I lean into the train window. My car is full already here at the fifth stop in light of another impending storm. This page seems to have many words about a very, very small thing. But I’m still going to post it. Perhaps keeping hope alive is an important thought today, and if hearing about small plastic slippers kept and found  points to patient hope, perhaps that’s a good thing to take with us into the day ahead.

Now I just have to find Jasmine.

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Barry’s Forty on Four

Yesterday was a calm weather day but not, perhaps, in the WBZ studio, since it marked the 40th anniversary that Barry Burbank joined the staff to broadcast the weather for greater Boston. The station website has highlights of those early days and, with great fanfare (and apparently an upside –down coffee cup over this past weekend), staff and fans everywhere recognized one of the greats.

I might have come close to meeting Barry down at the American Meteorological Society HQ off the Boston Common once. He well could have been at a gathering I attended there in honor of longtime broadcaster Donald Kent. And although I’ve got a hometown loyalty to the wonderful weather folks back in Chicago, especially Tom Skilling of WGN, I’ve grown attached over the years to these Boston based crews. They are our living rooms daily, guiding us through heat waves and school closings and related events (just like the nor’easter blowing outside at the moment.)  We come to know their tendencies (Harvey goes high with the snowfall predictions, Todd goes a little less, Barry is really the reliable one…etc etc). Through them our vocabulary increases: isn’t “bombogenesis” on the tip of your tongue more often these days?

And by all accounts, the tributes for Barry indicate he is as authentic off screen as in front of the ‘green screen,’ and his passion for the weather has made kids glad all over the region. “A role model,” writes and says John Keller at the same station. After hearing John’s remarks, I’m glad we have the chance to take a moment to recognize someone who can integrate professionalism, passion for the science, outreach and family life all in balance, and do it well.

Congratulations, Barry Burbank,  but please don’t leave your art quite yet. Many of us still call you ‘Bar (silencing the ry) behind your back, and count on you to advise us, with your other daytime and evening colleagues of course, how we ought to dress for this tumbling and unpredictable New England weather. No such thing as bad weather, right? Just bad clothes?  Thank you indeed,  for keeping us from those!

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Two Point Five

Some readers may know the institution at which I work numbers both its buildings and courses of study. We speak this language: “you take the tunnel under Building 18 and go through 56,” or “have you visited yet in 1.018?” Yesterday I needed to search my computer for class related materials for the course 2.671. But a mis-typed digit brought me into a whole new world.

Instead of 2.671 I put in 2.5, and my “assistant” finder of things, the magnifying glass on the desktop, went into immediate action. The results of my search are telling:

  • “my 2.5 yr old does not listen.”
  • “my 2.5 yr old jeep sounds loud when idling.”
  • “my 2.5 will not eat.”
  • “my 2.5 is out of control.”
  • “my 2.5 yr old sebring cranks but won’t start.”
  • “my 2.5 yr old screams

I felt both an immediate kinship and sympathy for the those two point five year olds out there; it would seem they are a feisty lot, and the adults around them are searching for clues to their behaviors (and/or cars that will enable them to drive away for a break.) I recall my own experiences with those caught in the throes of being two: they are coursing full speed ahead toward ever more independence, yet find themselves often in a world they, too, think is out of control with people who won’t listen. Who wouldn’t send up a scream or two?

Today as we train into the city, I actually hear a few voices in the traincar, unlike yesterday’s completely silent journey after our team lost in the Superbowl. The strangeness of that event would fill another post, but suffice to say it seemed everyone was rather muted on the morning ride. Somehow that reminds me that whether we are 2, 22, 42, or 62, we’re all on the road together, hitting different curves at different times. Imagine the car here filled with those lively two year olds described above. I hope we bigger folk can face into our days today with a bit of their joy of life and their affections.

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You Know You’re Back in Boston When…(part 2)

Recent days have seen me log in several hundred miles on another trip to the great state of Texas. I flew out of Logan two days after the ‘bomb cyclone,’ attended a four day conference in Austin and then made the drive to Waco to visit family. Holding the newborn, chasing the toddler, and resting in-between all made for an enjoyable five more days. Then came the return journey north: the drive back to Austin, the wait for plane to Houston and hearing “we’ll board in 9 minutes” change to “your plane is broken.” The hundred or so Boston-bound souls dutifully shuffled off to a new terminal and gate without a fuss, just doing what they were told, and in time both new plane and crew were found and by 1am we were again wheels down at Logan.

As I made my way to hotel and then work the next day, I realized this post was being born: a sequel, if you will, to those posted some years ago after a trip back to the Calumet homeland. So I offer this humble update: In 2018, you know you’re back in Boston when…

  • You wonder, again, just for a second, if your big-belly plane going that fast will really stop before the runway does. How cold is the ocean in January?
  • The shuttle driver at 1:15am is wide awake and happy to be so.
  • Hotel housekeeping knocks at 8am because, hey, it’s late: who’s sleeping in?
  • Everyone knows what “The Williams is sluggish” means and gives thanks they aren’t in it.
  • The question isn’t “You watching the game this weekend?” but rather, “Where you watchin’ the game?”
  • Obviously everyone knows what game
  • Ah, the Red Line.
  • In footwear, function trumps fashion. Always.
  • Later in the day you find yourself humming the tune played as the plane cruised up to the gate at 1am: “Aaaah, Boston you’re my home.”
  • “Dooo dooo doot, doo doo doo dooo…..”

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An Inch, and More, of Grace

We’re heading to Christmas and events are unfolding fast. These last two days have found me walking on the cold marsh with dog just about at first light, and there are a million tasks that I, like most everyone else, am trying to do. But a chance encounter at the local grocery yesterday provided a backdrop to think again about how we’re moving in this crowded and harried space together.

As I exited the store I came upon a woman with flailing arms. She was walking around my car waving a smartphone. She yelled at me to inquire whether this was in fact my car, and if so, how could I have not felt myself hitting her bumper?! This encounter degenerated into a demand to see my license and registration, threats that she’d involve her relatives in law enforcement and that “if there is so much as a scratch on my newly repaired grill costing $ 12,000, I’m coming after you.”

So I answered with words to the effect that her photos had better document that my car was not touching her car: my license plate was touching her license plate, but there was an inch of light between our cars. “My car is not touching yours, and if you come after me, I’ll come after you to prove my car is not touching your car.” Such was the conversation! After a few moments, she seemed to collect herself, apologized, and admitted that in fact, I was not connected to her grill. She went off into the rest of her day. And in the space next to my car sat two older folks, munching on muffins and watching all this go down. There was an inch of light. An inch of grace.

Fast forward to the expensive dog and cat vet visit later, the mounds of laundry to do before the trip, the nagging details of meetings and ‘away’ messages demanding attention. On the happier side, I received two birthday gifts I’ll unwrap tonight, and as I either light or blow out candles, I’ll consider that inch from yesterday a birthday gift too.

My hope is that as we prepare to enter the holidays, as I round up (or hide) the undone and look again for the crèche to which many of us are heading, I will realize that what I saw yesterday was a reflection of so much more grace than just an inch. “God in man made manifest” is right around the corner, and in this crazy, fast paced fragmented world, we need that grace extended to us. If we seek that, is that what we can learn to extend to others?

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Mary and Martha, the Ox and the Lamb

It’s nearly the third Sunday of Advent, the season in my faith that marks time and awaits the coming of Christmas. Today is Saturday, full of chores and unfinished work, of tasks that vary from the return of overdue library books to clearing the room of our returning college student.

Advent is a season of the predictable but of the unpredictable, too. It’s predictable to be hiking to the shed in the bitter cold to find the misplaced tree stand; it might even be predictable during the search to find oneself humming ‘Little Drummer Boy[1].’ But surely it’s unpredictable, just a little, to find oneself leaking tears and getting choked up about the ox and lamb? After all, in that story, they just “kept time.”

This must be the beauty and mystical blend of what is both holy and practical. We too ‘keep time,’ not in the sense of preserving it, lengthening it or changing it, no: most days we keep time by simply doing the next thing in front of us. We wake to work, work to make a difference, sleep to rest; we rejoice, we mourn. We hear the strain of the music and call beyond us, bigger than we are. We take tiny steps toward what we hope is our aim: the love, and the light.

I weep for my friends, and the wider world, who are keeping time in hardship. I weep at the seeming distance of my 21st century life from the intimacy there in the stable long ago. And in the next moment, clutching the found tree stand, old ornaments, and crèche figures from many years ago, two other time-keeping women leap to mind: Mary and Martha. I know which I resemble now in my haste and manufactured but also real busyness. And I recognize the need to also be like the other as well.

Martha, Mary, the ox and the lamb:  all part of a world changing drama that unfolded itself in poverty and humility and hidden-ness. How is it that 2000 years later an anonymous small drummer boy, created in the imagination of song-writers, sung about by millions, dismissed as schmaltz by hundreds, can drill into hearts? Perhaps it is not him, nor his drum, nor the tune itself, nor even the animals described. Perhaps it is the very connection he made, that he finds, with the small child come to bring and to be the Light of the World.


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