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Wide White: February 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

4 things we need

A number of people have asked us what we need right now. I can't count the number of times I've been asked, "How can we help?"

The answer to that question really isn't very simple, but I want to try to answer it as best I can. Part of what makes it difficult is while there are things we need help with now, there are just as many (if not more) things we'll need help with once Kaylee Hope is born. We don't want to tap people out and we don't want to have an ongoing, indefinite state of "we need help!" Additionally, nothing has changed in the last week except the information we have. We're still expecting a baby girl who's still alive and our family remains the same.

Having said that, we obviously recognize the change in our situation and the needs it brings and want to address those in response to all of you.

1. We need prayer, encouragement, notes of support, etc. I've heard a few people say, "I know you must be getting overwhelmed with emails and I don't want to add one more." Yes, we have many, many emails, blog comments, etc. and yes, I would love to respond to as many as possible as quickly as possible. But please know that your words of encouragement mean more to us than you could possibly know. Hopefully over the course of time we'll have the chance to adequately communicate that to you and thank you. (See Jamie's post on this for more details on how to pray for us.)

2. We need babysitters. Some friends came over Saturday evening (thanks Lopers!) and watched the kids while we headed to Caribou Coffee for 4 hours. We were amazed at how quickly that time flew by. After 6:00 the kids only need bottles and bedtime so they're pretty easy, but they still require some attention. If we're able to be free to address the many tasks we have on our plates right now, it's really helpful. (In case you're wondering, that list of tasks includes far more than simply blogging updates or trying to respond to emails, text messages, etc. We also have a number of things to get in order for when Kaylee Hope is born and we want to have those things in place sooner than later so we don't have to think about them anymore. We have doctor appointments and other appointments during the day as well, so there is some need here and there for help with that. Additionally, sometimes we need a babysitter because we're just tired. Being emotionally drained has easily translated into being physically drained and a break from being parents can be very helpful. For the last 3 days we've both hit our wall by 3:00 regardless of how much sleep we got the night before.)

3. We need food. We've had friends either bring us food (thanks Stewards!) or have us over (thanks Tillmans!) recently and it's been a huge help. Tonight we have friends (thanks Augustins!) taking us out for dinner while Jamie's sister (thanks Jess!) watches our kids. (As you can see, you may even get a shout-out here on the blog if you help, so, you know, you can frame it, print it, and be forever immortalized on Wide White.) This need will probably be more present when Kaylee Hope is actually born, but it doesn't hurt to have right now either.

4. We need money. No, I'm not asking for money and I have no idea how much we'll need. I've had suggestions to start a Kaylee Hope fund to cover expenses or even have a benefit for her but I just can't imagine expenses will be enough to warrant that. We have health insurance and a flex spending account with money we're tucking away for her birth already, so that shouldn't be an issue. What we're unsure of is what the costs will be for everything after our little girl is born. I think we'll be able to manage them but expenses can add up quickly. The prenatal care should be 100% covered by our insurance company, but of course any hiccups would present new challenges. Our Wednesday appointment cost between $6,000 and $7,000 alone. I don't foresee any issues with insurance covering that, but it's a pretty daunting number if there were problems.

I'm really just including this need because I think there's a good chance it will be a need and a list of our needs would be incomplete without money included. This is not a request for assistance in this area, simply a summary of the potential for this to be an area of need. I think I'd rather put a few thousand dollars on a credit card to cover expenses than ask others for money, but maybe that's my pride talking.

UPDATE 3/16/11: So far our expenses have been minimal. It appears that our only expenses will be for flowers and decorations for Kaylee Hope's memorial service and a few things here and there. Even the parking company waived their normal $250 fee for the parking lot at the church. The funeral home waived all of their fees for the cremation. The business that embroidered a blanket for her waived their charges. We haven't seen our bills from the doctor yet but I think the money we set aside for that will cover it. We have been very blessed so far. We plan to give any money we receive above these expenses to organizations that support parents with a fatal prenatal diagnosis.

So that about sums it up. If you're able to babysit or help with a meal here or there, we won't turn you down! It's most helpful if you can just let us know a day that works for you (or even a few days) and we'll check our calendar and let you know if another day works better. I've had people suggest using something like Care Calendar to manage meals and if it gets to be too much to manage on our own, we'll do that and let you know.

And if nothing else, please let us know that you're thinking of our little girl, praying for her, wearing purple for her, etc. It's an enormous lift to our spirits!

Thank you all for your love and support. I don't know where we'd be without all of you.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Given the choice, which path would you choose?

I have a cousin who talks about giving her children choices that aren't really choices because it makes them feel like they still get to make the decision. For example, "Do you want to go to bed now or in 5 minutes?" Or even better, "Do you want Dad or Mom to take you to bed?" The result in both of these scenarios is the same regardless of which choice the child makes but there are fewer fights or protests of "I don't want to!"

Well, this reminded me of that cousin. (Sorry Keelie! Trust me, happier things remind me of you too...)


I wrote and scheduled this post over a month ago. I'm writing now with our news of Kaylee Hope and there's a strange irony to this post. We feel that so many of our decisions are like this. Regardless of which choice we make with our little girl, the end result is painful.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

My wardrobe includes purple

I don't think I've ever owned any purple clothing. I have a white shirt with purple lettering that pokes fun at the Vikings' empty trophy case, but that's as close as I've gotten.

I now have a couple of purple shirts thanks to a stop at a mall on our trip home from Duluth yesterday.

You probably know by now from my post on Thursday that we decided for a number of reasons that Kaylee Hope's favorite color is purple.

Yesterday my mom changed her blog color to purple and said, "From now until Kaylee Hope's birth, or her death, whichever comes first, my blog will be purple and I am going to wear something purple." Soon others started telling us they were wearing purple for our little girl too. My Aunt Kari changed her Facebook profile picture to purple.

Keira's in on the fun too:

Jamie noted yesterday that when she was a little girl, all she would wear is purple. When she was 18 months old she would change her clothes if she wasn't dressed in purple. I love to see the color come back around with our little girl.

I don't have enough purple in my wardrobe to wear purple every day, but I am hoping Jamie can at least make me a purple bracelet to wear.

I still hate the Vikings, but thanks to Kaylee Hope, I now love purple.

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Preserving the memories

I have a question especially geared towards those of you who have gone through a similar experience in losing a young child.

Jamie and I are hoping to start responding to all of the messages today as we just weren't able to get to them yesterday. We'd like to try to preserve them and create some sort of guest book for ourselves. Of course, we've received messages in multiple formats (Twitter, Facebook messages/posts/chats, text messages, emails, blog comments, blog posts, etc.) that have been tremendously uplifting and encouraging and we're trying to figure out a good way to preserve all of them.

So I'd like to know what ideas people have other than my blah, boring idea of entering all of the messages into an Excel spreadsheet. (Column A = Date/time, Column B = Sender, Column C = Message, Column D = BORING!!!)

Thanks for any suggestions!


A sawstop to end all sawstops

This could be a game-changer in the table saw business. Many fingers are smiling.



Friday, February 25, 2011

The path forward

Now that we know what we know - that our little girl has Turner syndrome and isn't likely going to survive more than a month or two - what do we do now? What do the next few days or months look like? What does the immediate future look like? Of course, there are still things we don't know for sure, but we have to start to wrap our heads around what the short term will look like.

I've had over 10 times the normal number of visitors to my blog reading the story of our little girl over the last 2 days. We're humbled to say the least. And while this blog has been and will continue to be a tool used for us to communicate what's going on, fundamentally it will still remain what it's always been.

This means that among the updates on Kaylee Hope, there will be occasional stories of Carson and Keira. Tomorrow, as with every Saturday at 6:45 AM, a video will be posted here that I scheduled weeks ago. At 6:45 AM on Sunday there will be another weekly photo. Monday through Friday I'll post on anything from politics to faith to casual or humorous observations.

Of course, updates on Kaylee Hope won't go away. And for those of you who are here only for those updates and aren't interested in the other things I write about, I've assembled and will continue assembling all of my posts on Kaylee Hope in the right sidebar under the heading, "Our Journey with Kaylee Hope." Hopefully this helps those coming to this site for those updates with an easy way to read her entire story without filtering through the other content I post on here in case that doesn't interest them.

Right now, we simply need to respond to all of you. We've had an amazing outpouring of support. We have Facebook messages and posts and chats, tweets, text messages, phone calls, and emails to reread and respond to. I apologize for our delay in responding but we've really had more than we've been able to adequately address. Our hope is to spend a few hours in a coffee shop this afternoon before picking up our children to organize those responses and respond to as many of them as we can.

From there, we have a lot of decisions to make and some settling down to do. We're doing our best to live life vivaciously with our baby girl, but reality is we have to plan for the worst. What's hard is we don't want to think about these things, and yet we don't want to regret the decisions we make. You can't reverse decisions like burial vs. cremation vs. whatever other options exist. I'm having a hard time even wrapping my mind around it right now and accepting that it's a decision I need to make. I just tried entering a Google search for "options for disposing of a"... I couldn't finish the search. Go ahead, try typing it out yourself. Try to actually put those words on the screen. Then try pressing "enter," knowing that search is now saved in your Google search history, knowing that when you start typing "options" the remainder of what you searched for is going to show up. Consider that every web resource you've visited for dealing with this is now in your browsing history, showing up when you start to enter any website that starts with the same letters.

This is just a small part of what's going through our minds. I'm sorry if that depiction seems too real and too personal, but it's a small part of what this looks like.

And there are so many similar decisions. We have to figure out who our care provider will be for our weekly visits going forward. I'm trying to think of how to maintain professional and personal boundaries with my clients at work, who will need to know that I'll be out of the office unexpectedly sometime in the next few months. And of course, some of them already know that we're expecting a baby in July, so I need to figure out how to respond when they ask about her. We need to find a balance between taking people up on offers of child care and meals because we're really in need of it and setting aside family time alone together with normal everyday routine.

The road forward will simply not be the same. Jamie gives me a card every year for our anniversary with reflections on the past year. The card she gave me last night included this:
Part of me feels like this was our last "normal" year and to finish this letter is to acknowledge that moving forward we'll never be the same. I know that it could be a really good thing, but I'm not there yet. Right now I'm just really hurt.
I think more than anything we'll simply find a new normal. This experience leaves a stamp that I don't believe will ever go away. While my posts about Kaylee Hope will be fewer as time goes by, I don't imagine they'll completely go away. She'll stick around in some way, whether it's through future reflections on coping with grief and pain or celebrations of her life on her future birthdays or when we hang her ornament on the Christmas tree.

I don't know that the path forward will be dramatically different from the path we've traveled, but I'm sure there will be new scenery along the way. I was recently reflecting on how easy my life has been and how little turmoil I've really experienced. I can count the number of funerals I've been to on one hand. This is all so very, very new.

Regardless of what the path forward looks like though, it will include Kaylee Hope. She's a permanent part of our lives and I'm so thankful for her.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Her name is Kaylee Hope

We received confirmation today that our little baby is a girl. We named her Kaylee Hope.

She has a favorite color and a scent too. More on that later...

Monday night was the first time during this pregnancy that we sat down and looked at baby names. We got through the top 500 boy names of 2009 before we got tired and decided to take a look at girl names the next day. Of course, the next day, everything changed.

Jamie loved Kaylee for a first name and I'd been thinking of Hope for a middle name. I pulled up the list of the top 1000 names from 2009 last night to review, just to be sure Kaylee was the right name. We went through the top 25 names before coming to number 26: Kaylee. I folded the laptop, put it away and just said, "Her name is Kaylee. Kaylee Hope." Jamie simply said, "Really? Thank you."

Her name was even more affirmed when we found its meaning. Kaylee means "slender." It seemed so fitting to honor a little girl who's currently so swollen with fluids that it's obvious on the ultrasound that her tiny arms and hands are puffier than they should be. She's our LITTLE girl!! She was so small, thin, and slender on that 8-week ultrasound. That's my girl! That's how I think of her. You don't remember a dying cancer patient as they are: crippled, immobile, gasping for breath. You remember them as the vibrant, healthy person who was so full of life. That's how I see my baby girl. She's thin, vivacious, full of life!

Additionally, the origin of her name is Gaelic. Keira, Carson and now Kaylee all have names that are Irish Gaelic in origin. (Some of the names have Scottish or English origins as well depending on which website you want to believe.) We love Gaelic names!

Her middle name, Hope, carries a lot of meaning for me. I'll list a few of them. Some of them were reasons I really wanted to use the name in the first place and others are simply observations that make the name make that much more sense to us.
  • Hope is optimism. In difficult times I've often found comfort in Psalm 42:11: "Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God."
  • In my first blog post about our daughter's situation a couple of days ago, I used the word "hope" 5 times. We're holding onto a lot of hope. We have hope for the future. We hope for a painless journey for our little girl. We hope for healing - more spiritual and emotional than anything, though as long as she's alive we allow ourselves a small glimmer of hope for the "impossible" physical healing too! We hope for many, many things. Sometimes hope is really all we have.
  • I received a Facebook message yesterday from a woman I hardly know, and yet her message left me feeling like I know her and her husband very well. She lost her baby girl 9 years ago in a very similar fashion to us, learning at 20 weeks that the baby would not survive and then delivering it at 40 weeks. She said something that stuck with me: "I can tell you, Joey - that even in the darkest moments - God is faithful. He will sustain you - hope and grief are best friends sometimes." She's so right. Hope and grief go hand in hand in ways I never realized before.
  • In a blog post today, my mom - who had no idea what name we were using - said, "I am looking forward to putting a name to all of this love and hope."
  • The church we've been a part of since the beginning of the year is called Hope Community Church. We've been so encouraged in our short time there and have felt a huge, warm embrace from the people of Hope CC during the past 2 days.
There are other reasons I could list. I simply fell in love with the name. We call her "Kaylee Hope," using her middle name when we say it. Both names mean too much to leave one or the other out. It sounds so positive, so optimistic, so full of life!

I've been surprised at how helpful it is to know her name. We bought her a Christmas ornament at a gift shop in Canal Park in Duluth today. It has a snowman with her name on it. (I may have to go back tomorrow to see if I can find another ornament with the name "Hope" on it.) We bought her a Sandra Boynton book, One, Two, Three. We hadn't read it before, so I read it to her and I laughed and loved the book. I know she loved it too. Plus, she's our third child. Our oldest two will also love the book and we'll always be reminded of Kaylee Hope as we count off the title: "One, Two THREEEEE!"

Kaylee Hope's favorite color is purple. It's her favorite color because her favorite scent is lavender. This probably sounds random and trivial, but there's a story to it.

Yesterday I sent Jamie to the spa. Normally Jamie is repulsed by the smell of lavender, yet at the spa, for the first time, the scent of lavender was calming. A few hours and 175 miles later we arrived in our room at a bed & breakfast in Duluth. All of the soaps and lotions in our room are lavender and we love it.

We decided lavender must be Kaylee Hope's favorite scent! Of course, that means purple (not necessarily the lavender shade, though) must be her favorite color. (Rest assured, she remains a die-hard Packer fan!)

We're having fun with our little girl today. It may be "OUR" anniversary, but it's also an entire day to spend with just her! I had Jamie jump on my back for a piggyback ride down the stairs because Kaylee Hope wanted a piggyback ride. I lifted Jamie in the air over my head and spun her around our room because it makes Keira laugh and laugh and I knew Kaylee Hope wanted to know what all of that fun was about. We fed her a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory caramel apple since it's one of her mom's favorite treats and we knew she wanted a taste.

We're loving our time with Kaylee Hope! We love spoiling her. Through our time with her, we're learning to treasure our time with each other and with our children more than ever.

Kaylee Hope is special. She's teaching us more than we ever knew we could be taught by such a little girl.

She is beautiful. She is Miss Beautiful. She is Kaylee Hope.

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4 years ago today

4 years ago I married Jamie Lynn. I could use many adjectives to describe Jamie but most sound cliche and none really do her justice. To say she's the best thing that's ever happened to me (see what I mean about the cliches?) is an understatement.

We're spending the day in a great bed & breakfast in Duluth. We were married at Cove Point Lodge just north of here in Beaver Bay. Our reception was just down the street from where we're staying at Black Woods Grill.

I'd planned this anniversary trip a month and a half ago. I arranged for my mother-in-law and some friends to watch the kids for 2 nights. I rescheduled an appointment Jamie had made at a spa to use a gift certificate I got her for her birthday in September. (Note: if you give Jamie a gift certificate, she will wait as long as possible to use it. She says she has to savor it.) I scheduled that appointment for yesterday afternoon and planned to surprise her by showing up at home for lunch, taking her to the spa, then whisking her away to Duluth.

The surprise stayed intact, but the circumstances certainly weren't what I had imagined. I told her about the spa between tears after our meeting with the genetic counselor at the hospital yesterday. It was 12:40. The spa appointment was for 1:00 and we were 25 minutes away and still not out of the hospital. I thought it would still be good for her to be pampered and convinced her to go.

We cried for most of the 25-minute drive to the spa. She made it in a half hour late and the pampering began. When she got home I told her about the trip to Duluth and after getting over her initial surprise, she got excited.

It's a good thing we were alone on that 3-hour drive. We'd cry for 15 minutes and then laugh for the next 15. It would have driven an unsuspecting passenger crazy. Sometimes it drove us crazy.

I know none of this really has anything to do with our anniversary or our wedding day, but it's the circumstances in which we're celebrating. And we are celebrating! We have a lot to celebrate.

And for now, we have a little girl to celebrate with. She's still kicking, reminding us she's with us and is having a blast! So we're going to show her around Duluth. We're sure she's gonna love it!

Oh, I know it's not necessarily a girl for sure, but it seems likely that it is. We should know for sure this afternoon. Last night we decided on a girl's first and middle name. We decided on her favorite color. But those things will remain a secret until we have final confirmation that she's a girl.

I'm realizing that my anniversary post is mostly about my child. I suppose that's natural right now. But really, I feel so much closer to my wife today than I did 48 hours ago. Maybe that's why this little child is here. Maybe this child is serving to bring the rest of us closer together through its brief life.

If that's this child's purpose, I think that's a life lived to the fullest. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Happy anniversary Jamie. I love you more today than yesterday (or 4 years ago).

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An update on Thadwick / Miss Beautiful

We had a level 2 ultrasound this morning that essentially confirmed what we learned yesterday and provided some additional information.

We don't have a conclusive diagnosis of Turner syndrome, though there are signs that could point to that. They weren't able to establish the gender but we should know that tomorrow pending some of the results from the amniocentesis.

Here's what we do know:
  • There's excessive fluid buildup around our baby's internal organs and - well, all over. There's a large sac of fluid behind the baby's head/neck that's larger than its head. The doctor was an older man who said he's done over 10,000 amniocenteses. He said the amount of fluid in our baby is a lot - "up there" among the worst cases he's seen. That alone would cause any baby's heart to stop functioning due to the stress.
  • The heart is abnormal. Only 1 heart chamber (maybe 1.5) is pumping. There are a number of potential reasons but it appears there's a heart defect that would prevent the baby from surviving as well.
  • There's either one kidney or the two kidneys are fused.
  • There isn't movement (or is minimal movement) in the feet and legs. The cause of this is unknown.
These are the major complications. Hopefully the tests will tell us if there's a chromosomal abnormality. If there isn't, there's not much we can know right now.

So those are the facts. I got emotional as I started to write this post and entered the names in the title. I wasn't emotional at all talking about the facts. I'm emotional again as the name "Miss Beautiful" crosses my mind.

Many, many people - more than I ever could have guessed - have asked how they can help. Our first request is for prayer. We need peace, grace, and healing in a number of ways. The most difficult part of our 2.5 hours at the hospital this morning was discussing with the genetic counselor what to do with the baby once its born. Funeral? Memorial service? Private time? Cremate? Burial? Dispose in some other way? These are questions we never imagined needing to answer 2 days ago and they made the end result very real.

What made this morning's experience at the hospital somewhat ironic is we were in the same office as we were a year and a half ago for our 20-week ultrasound when we found out we had twins. In fact, we had the same doctor and genetic consultant today as we had then. Of course, a year and a half we were crying tears of joy and laughter at the news of having twins. This time it's tears of sadness.

A woman in the waiting room was 12 weeks along and thought she may have twins. She was complaining about the prospect of having two and said (loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear), "Please dear God, just ONE healthy baby." I found irony in how the words of our prayers were really no different, even if our circumstances were night and day from one another.

A number of people have asked about meals. Meals are definitely helpful but it's hard to know when and how frequently we'll need them. We're heading to Duluth for a previously-planned (surprise to Jamie) anniversary getaway for the next two days (our 4th anniversary is tomorrow) and will be back Friday. From there, we have no idea what the road will look like. We still have a baby who's alive and a very tough road between now and when the journey for the little one comes to an end. We had friends bring us a meal and stay with us for a few hours last night and found it really helpful. Not only was it a distraction and an opportunity to talk about other things (as well as process through the whole experience with them), but having dinner prepared, cleaned up, and toys picked up at the end of the day was a huge help. It was so nice to just put the kids down and be able to be together with just the two of us - and, of course, our baby.

So I don't know what to say exactly. Do we need meals now? Do we need them in 2 weeks? Do we need them when this baby is born? I don't know the answers but if you would like to help, please let us know and I will try to coordinate it as best as I can. I have a number of offers through Twitter, Facebook, email, text messages, and phone calls and will try to organize them and respond over the next few days.

Thank you again for your sympathy, thoughts, prayers, and words of encouragement. This is devastating and heartbreaking for us, but we know we're not alone.

I don't know how much more news there will be other than the results of the amniocentesis and I'll post them here once we have them. Other than that, if there are any new developments I'll try to post updates here.

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I love you, Thadwick

Today's post was supposed to be about a name. A few months ago my brother sent me an email referring to the baby we're expecting as "Thadwick." We didn't really have an "in utero" name for the baby and somehow - oddly - Thadwick stuck.

I had this post planned about baby nicknames, the names we used for our last pregnancy - we started with "Peanut" and switched to "Peanuts" when we found out it was twins.

Then we had our 20-week ultrasound yesterday morning. At our last 20-week ultrasound we found out we were having twins. This time we found out we will likely lose our baby.

I'm heartbroken. We're heartbroken.

I don't think I've ever used the word "heartbroken" to describe how I feel about anything. I don't think I've ever quite understood the term.

We'd discussed a few times how we felt like we weren't paying as much attention to this pregnancy. Running around after 12-month-old twins takes time and we've found ourselves noting, "We're already at 17 weeks! How'd that happen?" Last time around, we were just about counting off each day.

But yesterday we were awakened to how much this little one means to us. We're both overwhelmed by the love and affection we have for this child.

Within seconds of beginning the ultrasound the doctor made it clear that something was wrong. There was far too much fluid buildup. In fact, he seemed surprised that the child is still alive.

His guess is that the child has Turner syndrome. If that's the case, it's a girl (he wasn't able to determine the gender definitively, but that condition only exists in girls).

Most of what I've read on Turner syndrome - and it isn't much since the diagnosis isn't confirmed and I'd rather wait until it is to dive in - deals with the condition in children and adults. What I've found on babies with Turner syndrome in utero is fairly bleak. 3% of pregnancies actually start with this condition, but 99% of them are miscarried in the first trimester. (You can read more from the National Institutes of Health if you're interested.)

Again, we just have a preliminary prognosis at this point. We're hoping to schedule an appointment for a level 2 ultrasound today where we can hopefully get more conclusive information.

Either way, the prognosis from the doctor was tough to read:
Single fetus breech presentation with heart tones and movement is noted. The fetus has large septated cystic neck masses consistent with hygromas, large pleural effusions and ascites. The placenta is high posterior and edematous. Preliminary impression is Turner's syndrome and impending heart failure. The study is not completed and measurements are not done. The patient is referred to MPP
The words "impending heart failure" might as well have been bolded, underlined, and blown up to a size 60 font. That line keeps running through our minds.

The last 20 hours have been a roller coaster. We've cried. We've prayed. Friends brought us dinner. I read the baby one of my favorite board books, Moo, Baa, La La La!.

I have to find a new nickname if this is a girl. Thadwick won't do. But that's the least of my concerns.

I just want to hold her. I want to tell her it's okay. I want to make it better. I want it all to be over, to have her in my arms and take her home and bundle her up like all babies should be.

But chances are I'll never have that chance. And it breaks my heart.

I love you, Miss Beautiful. ("Miss Beautiful" is much better than "Thadwick.")

And I don't think it's cheesy anymore when people say their children with "birth defects" are "perfect." I realize now that they don't mean you're biologically perfect. They mean that they love you just as you are.

I hope you're not hurting. I cry when I imagine your tiny heart failing. I hope it's not. I hope you're okay. I hope if the prognosis is right, you don't feel any pain.

Whether or not you feel pain though, we feel it for you. We're hurting very much.

I love you,

Your daddy

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Government operations: slow and steady or pick up the pace?

As they say, there are two sides to every coin. When that coin is the government, it's no different.

I work with numerous government agencies so I get to see things from the insider's point of view. Here are 2 direct quotes I've heard from clients who work inside 2 different government agencies:

"Only 1/3 of the government workforce is productive."
"Seriously, Congress doesn’t even take as long as we do!"

Of course, it would be easy to take these quotes as direct evidence that government is inefficient, works horribly, etc. However, my experience with government agencies has actually been pretty good and really hasn't been that different from my work with the private sector. While there are certainly bureaucratic hurdles to jump through at times, I don't find them to be much different than what I've experienced in the corporate world.

But like it or not, these comments are reflective of the feelings of many people both inside and outside of government. Government workers aren't much happier about the delays they face than those outside the government.

Contrast these sentiments with the complaints we often see when a new political party takes power. When Democrats swept into Washington in 2008, Republicans cried foul as Democrats rushed legislation through with little input from Republican members. Republicans wanted to know where their voice was. Likewise, we see Wisconsin Democrats and their supporters contending for more time with the budget repair bill Republicans are trying to pass. I've seen vehement arguments from Democratic legislators and others arguing that more time is needed to read and debate the bill.

So which is it? Should the government and Congress operate more quickly and efficiently or should legislation and initiatives take months to push through?

I think the faster government can move the better. Faster isn't always better, but in a system that moves quickly, bad decisions can be reversed and weeded out just as quickly as they were enacted, whereas good decisions at least move through more quickly.

Systems in which the wheels turn slowly don't necessarily produce smarter decisions, and those decisions that prove to be bad just take that much longer to be undone.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Convicted about wrestling a girl

A tiny event in Des Moines, Iowa, was huge in the lives of the few people involved. It turned out to be a huge event in the sports world too.

Home-schooled sophomore Joel Northrup went 35-4 wrestling for Linn-Mar High School this season. He was a serious contender for the state championship in the 112-pound weight class in a sport that is to Iowa what basketball is to Indiana or football to Texas.

Northrup's first round match was against a freshman from Cedar Falls, who at 20-13 should have lost to Northrup. But this wasn't just any freshman. This was Cassy Herkelman, one of the first 2 girls in the 85-year history of Iowa wrestling to make the state competition. (The other, Megan Black, lost both of her matches in the tournament this year.)

Northrup didn't believe it was appropriate for him to wrestle a girl due to his religious beliefs and instead chose to default rather than face a girl.

We can argue semantics all day long over whether or not it was appropriate for Northrup to default and we won't get anywhere. Should a football player refuse to play if the opponent has a female punter? What if you had to tackle her? How about a female first baseman on a baseball team? How physical is "too physical" for the genders to mix? I don't think these are questions we can objectively answer since everyone has a different worldview of how much gender mixing is appropriate.

Wrestling is about as physical as it gets though. It seems natural that even those without religious conviction may have qualms with engaging with someone of the opposite gender in this sport.

What's been interesting though is to see the reaction from the public. For the most part everyone has been supportive of Northrup, including the other girl in the tournament.
Black said Northrup refused to wrestle her three years ago, and that she respects him for adhering to his beliefs.

"If it's his religion and he's strong in his religion, then I just respect that," Black said. "Obviously, everyone can be pointing fingers at him. He, at least, is true to his beliefs and you have to respect that. It takes a lot for a 15- or 16-year-old boy to do."
Other parents seem to be in agreement with Black.
Marth Stetzel, a mother from Perry who had two sons in the tournament, said she had no problem with Northrup's decision.

"We're really raising kids that are going to be bigger than wrestling, and if it's something that he believes strongly in — which is not necessarily what I would do — you've got to respect a kid like that," Stetzel said.
Of course, Northrup isn't without his critics, including ESPN columnist Rick Reilly. Reilly was vicious in his criticism of the 16-year-old. Among other things, he wrote,
Coming into state, the Cedar Falls freshman [Cassy Herkelman] had won 20 of 33 matches, every one of them against boys. I'm guessing most of them have some kind of faith. I'm sure they all have consciences.
The Herkelmans -- and most of the state of Iowa -- praised Northrup for being a boy of faith. "It's his religion and he's strong in his religion," says Megan Black, the only other girl who made state. (These were the first two in the state's history. Black lost both her matches.) "You have to respect him for that."


Does any wrong-headed decision suddenly become right when defended with religious conviction? In this age, don't we know better? If my God told me to poke the elderly with sharp sticks, would that make it morally acceptable to others?

And where does it say in the Bible not to wrestle against girls? Or compete against them? What religion forbids the two-point reversal?
If the Northrups really wanted to "respect" women, they should've encouraged their son to face her.
I don't feel as bad for Cassy as I do for Joel. He was the fifth-ranked wrestler in the state at 112 pounds. He was 35-4. He had a chance to win the whole thing. In Iowa, that means a lifetime of people buying you lunch. It's corn-state royalty. To give all that up to protect a girl who loathes being protected? What a waste of a dream.
To say I disagree with Rick Reilly is an understatement. I'm not sure I'd make the same decision as Northrup, but still, I do respect his view. I don't respect his view in the sense that I wish others would make the same decision. I respect it in the sense that I wish more people would simply stand up for their convictions, whatever they are. Reilly is suggesting that because Northrup refused to wrestle a girl, he's sending a message to all other guys that they should be embarrassed that they're willing to wrestle a girl. I just don't see it that way at all.

I've been in Joel's position to a certain degree. When I was 19 I coached a 13-year-old all-star team to the state tournament. That team made the semifinals, which took us into Sunday. I left the team and headed back to be with my family for church the next day. My family's position was (and is) that Sunday is the day of rest, the Sabbath, and we shouldn't engage in any recreation, work, etc. It's a day devoted to God.

I was living at home that summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. Being under my parents' roof I was reluctant to make a decision that would violate the way things in the house in which I was living were done. But it's not like they forced me to leave the tournament. That was a decision I'd made long before I left the tournament. I had told the league director I wouldn't coach the team on a Sunday. He knew that and I stood by my decision.

If I were to be in that position today, I would probably coach the game for a number of reasons that would require another post. It simply isn't a conviction I hold any longer. But I have no regrets about the decision I made at the time. In fact, I think any other decision would have been wrong.

Those who aren't religious don't understand religious conviction. Those who do have respect for those who stand by their convictions. I respect Joel Northrup. The kid had a tough, tough decision in front of him. Giving up all chances at a state title sounds crazy to most kids. It probably wasn't much easier for Northrup than it would have been for anyone else. Kudos to the kid for standing up for what he believed in.

Rick Reilly looks at the situation and sees the waste of a dream. I see a kid who believes there are more important things than winning a state title. I agree with the kid.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to confuse an idiot

Really, you can just replace "idiot" with "anyone."



Saturday, February 19, 2011

How your credit score is calculated

I found this very informative and fascinating.



Friday, February 18, 2011

What to make of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's "budget repair bill"

By now I'm sure you've heard about the proposed "budget repair bill" proposed by newly-elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. With Republicans holding large majorities in Wisconsin's state senate and assembly, the legislation will likely pass once the 14 runaway senate Democrats return from their holdout in Illinois.

Thousands of people across the state of Wisconsin have turned out in protest. So many teachers have left their classrooms over the last 2 days to protest that school districts across the state - not just in the Madison area - have had to close. There were reports yesterday of senate offices being put on lockdown by capitol police as angry protesters marched through the halls yelling and banging on office windows.

In case you're still confused and wondering what the big hairy deal is, here's a list of the most hotly debated provisions in the bill:
Pension Contributions
Current: State, school, and municipal employees in the Wisconsin Retirement System pay little or nothing towards their pensions.
Proposal: WRS employees would contribute 50% of their annual pension payments.

Health Insurance Contributions
Current: State employees pay 6% of their health insurance premiums.
Proposal: State employees pay 12.6% of their health insurance premiums.

Collective Bargaining
Proposal: Collective bargaining for most public employees would be limited to wages. This includes employees from local teachers to University of Wisconsin faculty and academic staff. Wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index unless approved by a referendum. Contracts would have a one-year limit and until a new contract is settled, wages would remain frozen. Additionally, collective bargaining units would have to take annual votes to keep their certification as a union. Employers would not be permitted to collect union dues out of employees' paychecks and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay union dues. Employees working in law enforcement, fire departments, and inspectors would be exempt from these changes.
Again, this is just a summary of the most controversial portions of the new proposal. There are other changes, but they aren't nearly as earth-shaking. Most contentious is the section on collective bargaining. (For those not familiar with the term, "collective bargaining" is the process of negotiations between employers and trade unions in an attempt to reach agreement on wages, working conditions, etc.) Additionally, Walker has promised that in exchange for these concessions there will be no layoffs or even furloughs. He has said that 6,000 workers will need to be laid off if the legislation does not pass.

I considered not posting on this subject at all. There's so much emotion over it on both sides. But it is one of the nation's leading stories and it's so close to home. As I was deciding that I probably would write a post about it, I received this note from a friend:
With all of the hype going on tonight (esp. on FB) over the Walker bill, the first thing I did was go to your blog--was sure you'd have a post with educated food for thought...I've been thinking tonight "Where is Joey White when we need him?!"
I was flattered to say the least. There's nothing more validating for a blogger than to have a comment like that come through. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth my time to say anything on here. Stuff like that keeps me going.

I have friends from both sides of this debate, which is part of why I thought of staying out of it. I'm not interested in a comment war, though my readers usually do a great job of remaining civil. So at the risk of blowing oxygen on the fire, here are my thoughts on this whole mess.

First, nobody wins. Whether or not you agree with collective bargaining, these teachers and other public employees were hired with collective bargaining in place. I know that any time negative (or even seemingly neutral) changes come to my work situation, whether it's changes in pay or benefits or job description, it can be stressful and frustrating. Those supporting the legislation need to recognize that this bill will require some significant financial changes for a number of families. That's meaningful and needs to be acknowledged.

Second, Republicans campaigned on this kind of fiscal belt-tightening. Wisconsin was run over by the Tea Party Express in the last election. The governor in office didn't hold back on the campaign trail and he's only enacting what he's already talked about. I think it's just a shock to people in a state that's been historically liberal that he's actually carrying through with this proposal.

Third, Wisconsin is facing major budget deficits. They're looking at a $137 million budget shortfall through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. They face a shortfall of over $3 billion for the subsequent budget. On top of this, tax revenues have been in decline. Cuts have to be made somewhere. The private sector has been severely affected by the economic downturn and it only makes sense that public employees would be too.

Fourth, unions are antiquated. This is certainly a matter of opinion. Again, I want to be respectful of people who were hired into a situation in which they had unions and are now facing the prospect of drastic adjustments. But I see no reason unions should persist. I had a summer job where I was part of the SEIU and the pay left much to be desired for most of the employees. I dropped my education major in college as I realized that I didn't want someone else determining my salary and other working conditions for me, especially with a salary that, while comfortable, certainly wasn't anywhere near luxurious by any stretch of the imagination. I find it highly ironic that teachers are protesting about how low their pay is already. If that's the case, doesn't that just prove how ineffective the collective bargaining has been? So I'm not a personal fan of unions, which certainly clouds my perspective. But I've heard people argue that teachers and other employees need a chance to weigh in on this since it impacts them so much. I agree with them, but to be honest, they'd have a much more direct say in matters if they had more personal control over their own situation. I'm going to react much differently to a pay cut if my boss meets with me one-on-one and explains the company's situation rather than finding out through a company memo from a CEO I've never met. I could go on, but I don't want to turn this into an argument of "are unions good or bad?" My take is they're a thing of the past, so that impacts the way I view the situation.

Fifth, this whole mess is indicative of the problem with state and federal funding of education. Two of the biggest education debates I've heard over the last decade have been No Child Left Behind - a federal mandate - and education funding from the state level. When local school districts go through budget crises like what Lakeville, MN, is going through, people tend to address the issues with both sides at the table and much less loaded rhetoric. Oh, things can get testy for sure, but when you're at a table with your friends and neighbors, it's easier to either fork over more money for the need in your backyard or cut back because you know your neighbor just can't afford it (and neither can you). You can do a better job of making those determinations at the local level. When these discussions are happening in a capitol building hours away the nature of the discussion changes. Our education system - funding, structure, organization, etc. - is a mess and needs to be fixed. This whole debacle in Wisconsin is just more evidence of that.

Sixth, I find it to be a bit dishonest that law enforcement and fire departments were exempted from this legislation. If collective bargaining is a bad deal for Wisconsin with those who teach us, why not remove it with those who protect us too? I'm not sure why that's such an untouchable group. I have a hunch that politics are involved and if that's the case, it's really sad. I think it sends a mixed message, and one that educators and other state employees have a right to be upset with.

Of course, there's more at stake than education. As noted, this impacts most public employees in Wisconsin. But the focus has been on teachers because they've been walking off the job, which is leaving school districts with no other choice than to cancel classes. This has been forcing parents to take time off from their jobs to watch their kids. I think it's wrong for the teachers to be walking off their jobs, but I'm also sensitive to the passion they have on this issue. I know what it's like to be so passionate about something that you feel you have to do whatever it takes to try to make an impact. Add to that the pressure these people have from their coworkers and the energy that is present as everyone rallies around their cause and I can understand why they're making the decision to walk off the job. I don't like it and I don't agree with it, but I'm sympathetic to it.

So that's my take. Frankly, I think this will make reelection difficult for a number of these Republican politicians. The fact that it's being done so early in the legislative session bodes well for them, but I think there could be repercussions if the changes bear widespread angst in a historically liberal state. That remains to be seen.

Regardless, I'm a fan of Governor Scott Walker for governing the way he said he would. Like it or not, you can't say this comes as a surprise.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Major League Baseball: it's a business

I noticed some angst in the twittersphere yesterday over Fox Sports North's exclusive cable deal with the Minnesota Twins. This means that for the first time in years, Twins games won't be broadcast over the air for free. People are apparently upset that they can't watch Twins games without paying for a cable or satellite package.

I don't really understand the fuss. I mean, I understand being frustrated that you can't watch games for free any more. But let's be serious, professional baseball is a business. They don't owe us anything. Sure, it's in their best interest to keep their fans happy, but I don't think that's a problem.

First, 82% of Twin Cities residents have cable or satellite. Even when those with only basic cable (who don't get FSN) are removed, 75% of the population can still watch the games. With the 25% of those left, there's likely a relatively small number who regularly watched the Twins and will be impacted. Many sports fans already have cable simply for ESPN.

Second, the Twins will make more money with an exclusive deal with FSN than they would with WFTC (MY29). They're still reaching the large majority of their TV viewers and on top of that, those viewers are now paying to watch the games rather than getting them for free.

Baseball is a business. People complain about high ticket prices, but they can only charge what the market allows.

I think people view sports in some altruistic fashion that's a bit unrealistic. We think of trying to keep sports pure, as though the competition on the field is all that matters. But the reality is the rules will comply to demand. If there's demand for home runs, guidelines for balls and bats will be adjusted to make pitching harder and hitting easier. If the demand is for lower scores, the reverse will happen.

I love baseball. I love everything about the sport. I've umpired for the last 4 years, have seen games in 8 current (and 3 former) Major League ballparks, and would love to get to every ballpark. I've coached in the past and hope to coach my kids someday.

But professional baseball is a business. The teams owe it to their fans to treat them like any business would their customer, but we can't expect to get this product for free. In a world increasingly moving to cable TV, revenue from ads alone just aren't cutting it.

Lend the Twins some slack. More than half of MLB teams have gone exclusively to cable. If you want to keep Joe Mauer and company around and watch our team compete with the big guys, you've got to be open to the organization making revenue in any way possible. Unfortunately for us cheapskates (and general non-TV watchers), that means we'll have to go to the ballpark if we want to watch the Twins on a Sunday afternoon.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gossiping about gossip

I overheard a line from a conversation while at lunch the other day and couldn't help but chuckle.

A woman said to her friend in reference to a coworker of theirs, "She really gossips a lot about people to Amy." She then proceeded to talk about how much of a gossip this person was.

The irony wasn't lost on me. I wonder how often I've been guilty of that?


Monday, February 14, 2011

Insecure about money

Money is a sensitive topic for many people. I tend to be an open book in most areas of my life, including money and how I spend it. It's good to bounce things off of others who are in a similar (or even not-so-similar) place to help establish good spending, budgeting, saving, and giving habits.

But there's one question most people steer clear of: "How much do you make?"

I can think of two times I've been asked that question since I've been in salaried positions after college. Both people asking were related to me and both questions came out of a much extensive conversations. I didn't mind telling them if they cared. I don't care, so it's not something I asked them or have asked anyone else, but I don't mind if someone else wants to know.

What I find interesting about the question though isn't the fact that it's asked, but how I respond. I've found myself going to great lengths to try to give my salary context. In both cases, I suspected I earned more than the people who were asking me what I earned. It's as if I felt I had to then defend my salary for some reason.

I found myself explaining how high the cost of living is where I am. Sure, it's cheaper here than in San Francisco or Washington, DC, or New York. Compared with other large cities, we aren't in the upper tier of expense. But both people who've asked me have been from more rural areas where housing is half the cost of the Twin Cities.

I found myself explaining that our home cost quite a bit less than the average home in our city, that my income is somewhere around the median household income for our area (statistics vary by source). Of course, the fact that Jamie doesn't work got thrown in there as well. After all, we're living in this pricey climate on just one income!

I found myself throwing in vague information about payments that we had and how quickly we're trying to pay them down or how aggressive we are about trying to pay our house off in closer to 15 years instead of 30.

And afterwards, I found myself wondering why I bothered to stumble over the details. Why did it really matter? I was asked a simple question, I gave an answer, but I gave much more than just a simple answer. Why did I feel the need to add all of the context? Why not let the person asking the question figure out the cost of living factors? Or why not just let them think I make more relative to my cost of living than I actually do?

I'm not really sure exactly why I cared to elaborate. I think some of it is just trying to put myself on a level playing field with the people asking. If I think or know they make less than me, I don't want them to be intimidated by my higher earnings or wish they had that or think differently of me because of it. So I downplay it.

Four years ago, I made far less than I do now. At that point, any time I got in a discussion about what I did for a career, I was always quick to give my position context. I made sure people knew it was a stepping stone, that I wasn't planning to be "stuck" there. I think I really exhibited some of the same insecurity, just the other way around. I wanted to feel validated, like I was actually going somewhere, like I wasn't just some liberal arts major who was stuck in a dead end job that had nothing to do with his degree.

I wish I didn't think of money in this way. I wish I didn't subconsciously associate the success of friendships with relative economic power. (In other words, I think I have a subconscious thought that if someone else makes what I do, we'll probably have the ability to do - or not do - the same or similar things. Our budget for eating out and our ability to take a weekend getaway together or do anything else recreational is obviously tied to our ability to pay for it, so I find that I think in those terms without even realizing it.)

I think my response shows to some extent how important a factor money is to me, or at least how much I think about it without even thinking about the fact that I think about it. Maybe it shows how insecure I am about how I spend it. Our spending is exposed in so many areas. Cars, vacations, and televisions are very visible. Sure, the number of miles or the actual expense of the vacation or television may not be known exactly. But they're must more visible than the check you wrote to your church or the Salvation Army.

I hope if I'm ever asked how much I make again, I respond better. I hope I can be more matter of fact about it. I don't expect my friends who make more than me to explain to me what they do with all of it. And ultimately, if someone wants to know all of those details, they can ask me. I'll be happy to divulge them and be held accountable for it.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Practice what you preach

Or don't...



Saturday, February 12, 2011

Marching band animation

My only complaint is they kept the arms stiff the whole time.


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Friday, February 11, 2011

Happy 1st Birthday Carson & Keira!

Every parent says, "I can't believe it's been a year!" Count me as another one of those parents. I don't really feel like time has gone by any faster or slower than usual. There's just been a lot of change.

As Jamie and I were going to bed last night, she noted that it had been a year since we'd gone to bed without kids on the brain.

Actually, a year ago last night we were pretty emotionally drained. We'd spent the whole day in the hospital with Jamie on a pitocin drip, trying to induce labor. She was at 38 weeks, 6 days. The kids needed to come out!

But they were stubborn. I guess they didn't want a February 10th birthday. So we headed home, only to return the next day and start over again. (If you want more of the birth story, check out this post.)

The first thing we did when we left the hospital was head to Jamba Juice. It's been a favorite place of mine since college and Jamie's a big fan now too.


That was two days after they were born. We took them back this afternoon after their one-year checkup to relive the memory (and use a $10 gift card...).

Here's a short video I took with my phone of each of them downing a smoothie.


And here are a few pictures from their time downing the smoothies.

Focused! We're big stuff!

Carson multitasking (drinking a smoothie + giving a classic Carson look)

Keira puckered up after each gulp, then went back for more.

I think every parent has a moment or two (or for some, more) where they long to return to the days of no children. Thankfully, those days really are rare for us. We love being parents to these two! The joy Carson and Keira have been to us is something nothing else can beat.

Happy birthday guys! Stay awesome!

Play time with Dad on birthday night!

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

U.S. foreign aid: our best diplomatic tool

I recently saw an interview with Rand Paul, the newest Senator from Kentucky, in which he advocated eliminating foreign aid from the federal budget. While foreign aid takes up less than one-half of a percent of the federal budget, Paul rightly argues that it will take cutting everything, no matter how "small," to restore fiscal stability.

However, I think he glosses over one of the biggest reasons for foreign aid. I really don't believe it's all about America's generosity. Paul is right, we don't have the money on hand to be generous. We need to cut back. But for all of the cutbacks we'll need to make, foreign aid won't be one of them.

Foreign aid is simply too important of a tool for negotiations. I read a story today that highlights the plight of a U.S. diplomat who's being imprisoned in Pakistan for presumably killing two Pakistanis in self-defense. The title of the story warns that "Pakistan could lose aid dollars over detained U.S. diplomat."

That's right, the negotiating tool for obtaining the release of an American diplomat is money. And we've seen cuts in aid used as a threat with many other countries, most recently with Egypt.

Money talks. It always will. Because of that, look to military and domestic budget cuts before foreign aid is ever even considered for the chopping block. Cutting foreign aid is simply too big a risk for international relations.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011

How to get me to buy something from you

The temperature was 0 at 7:00 yesterday evening. That's -18 Celsius. (See, sometimes Celsius does seem more impressive.) Even worse, the wind chill was -15.

There was a knock at the door. We weren't expecting anyone. Since a girl scout had shown up at a friend's door while we were visiting on Saturday, we figured it had to be one of them on their annual trip around the neighborhood.

Jamie answered the door and sure enough, there was the girl scout and her mom selling cookies.

I'm not afraid to turn someone away if I don't want to buy their stuff, even a kid. Kids have to learn rejection at some point, right? Right.

Okay, the truth is I have a really hard time saying no to a kid. If a kid has the guts to knock on a stranger's door - something I was and still am pretty much afraid to do - I'll buy whatever they're selling.

I like to think that we bought 4 boxes of cookies last night because the wind chill was -15 and we were feeling bad for them. I have to say, that was well-played, girl scouts, very well-played. Who can say no to a kid busting their butt in that kind of weather? That individual would have some seriously awful karma coming their way the next day.

But really, if you want me to buy something from you, it doesn't matter what the temperature is. Just send a kid. You're guaranteed to get at least 5 bucks from me.

Added at 12:30 PM, 2/8/11:

Here are the kids chowing down on the cookies at lunch today. It is their birthday week, after all...

Carson is a fan!

Keira's not complaining either.


Monday, February 07, 2011

Super Bowl 45 wrap

First, THE PACKERS WON!!! I'm still basking in it. My kids' first Super Bowl and it was a blast!

Second, can we please stop using Roman numerals and just use the numbers? It sure would be easier than running through my mental "I, V, X, Let Caesar Destroy Mountains" routine.

Ok, onto my non-football Super Bowl wrap.

The national anthem was pathetic. I'll give Christina Aguilera credit for wearing clothes that actually covered her for a change, but her failure to remember the words to the song she was there to sing was almost as bad as her awful embellishment of the song.

The halftime show was mediocre. Props to the NFL for at least trying to entertain us with contemporary music. I'd had enough of the guys whose last big hit was 20-40 years ago. But it sounded like they used volunteer sound mixers.

My favorite commercial was Motorola's "Empower the People." As a big Android fan who likes to poke fun at iBots (people so crazy about Apple they see no wrong in Steve Jobs' machine) I loved it. Android has its flaws, as does any OS, but I love open source!

The funniest commercials were Bridgestone's "Reply All," Doritos' "The Best Part," and Coca-Cola's "Border." This top 3 says more about the lack of great humor than it does about the quality of the commercials. "Border" really wasn't so much funny as it was just good, much better than most of Coca-Cola's recent efforts.

The worst commercials went to Groupon's "Tibet" and Pepsi MAX's "First Date." The only thing worse than Pepsi MAX's male stereotype was Groupon's misguided (to say the least) use of the plight of the Tibetans to advertise its product.

The cutest commercial (do I lose my man card by having this category?) went to Volkswagen's "The Force." It already had 13 million views on YouTube before the Super Bowl even started. Great commercial, even for those of us who aren't Star Wars fans.

The best one-liner was at the end of Best Buy's "Big Game Spot with Bieber and Ozzy." Ozzy Osbourne asks, "What's a Bieber?" A disguised Justin Bieber responds, "I don't know, kind of looks like a girl." As a bona fide Justin Bieber anti-fan, I love the self-deprecation. Maybe the guy isn't all that bad.

There were a few I really didn't get. Audi's "Release the Hounds" seemed way over-done. Stella Artois' "Crying Jean" made absolutely no sense to me.

There were others that were good but this is more than enough analysis for Wide White.

I'll leave the best summary of the night to a kid from Green Bay.
Ryan Hatzenbeller, 24, of Green Bay, took off his No. 21 Charles Woodson jersey and waved it at traffic bare-chested.

"Dude! It's Green Bay, Wisconsin! We won the Super Bowl! We've got nothing better to do!" he shouted at a reporter over the din.

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Sunday, February 06, 2011

After 14 months at sea...

...this is how it should be.


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Saturday, February 05, 2011

London's sewermen tell you what not to flush

This was done back around the holidays. Nothing like a clever way to get a message across.



Friday, February 04, 2011

Obligatory Super Bowl post

Obligatory photo of crazy awesome Packer fans.

Obligatory Packers fan video. (NOTE: video is PG.)

Obligatory statements about how awesome the Packers are.

Now, feel free to leave your obligatory comments in support or opposition.

Go Packers!!


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Do you believe in prayer?

I've long struggled with prayer. I know it's a critical part of life as a Christian but I've had a hard time feeling any attachment to it or seeing its real-world application. I'm not exactly sure what to do with that. Pray for more meaningful prayer?

I tend to approach the world with blunt realism. When I see a study showing the same results in both medical patients receiving prayer and those receiving none, I think, "See, what's the point?"

I started thinking about this again yesterday when a few friends Tweeted about praying for a little girl battling cancer. I read a bit about her story and current situation on her CaringBridge site (WARNING: don't click through unless you're prepared to cry). It's heart-wrenching.

What really killed me was this question from the 7-year-old girl:
And then the question again that pierces our hearts daily, "Why hasn't Jesus used his power yet? He's so much stronger than cancer, why?"
I have absolutely no idea how I would answer that question.

As a Christian who purports to believe in prayer, I feel like I should have an answer to that question. But I don't and that seems like a problem.

So I'd like to know, do you believe in prayer? Why or why not? How would you answer this question? Why pray for healing when you know that there's a very real chance of no healing? If healing doesn't take place, how do you explain it to the child (or spouse or yourself) asking what the purpose of prayer is? If you're healed and you attribute that to prayers being answered, how do you address the person who prayed and wasn't healed?


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Bullies beware of Christians (in 30 years)

I have a list of radio stations programmed into my car that's too long and varied to ask anyone to understand. My wife and I have a wide array of tastes that are in somewhat constant change and conflict.

While trying to find a station last night I came across 98.5 KTIS, a Christian station. It's not one I frequent for reasons I'll leave for another time.

Between songs, the DJ launched into one of KTIS's famous feel-good moments. This one left me even more baffled than usual.
"Do you remember high school? Maybe you were picked on and told that you were less than perfect?

"Well, just think about what those people will look like at your 30-year reunion."

[Intro slowly builds for the next song, You're Beautiful]
Wait, what? I wish I could find a recording of it so I could be sure I remember it correctly, although I was pulling into my garage and wrote it down right away, so I think it's pretty accurate.

Now, the fact that they're referring to a 30-year high school reunion shows KTIS's target audience. They may be broadcast by a college, but they quit catering to college kids a long time ago. This isn't a problem, it's just an observation and helps explain why most young people I know roll their eyes at KTIS more than they actually listen to it.

But more importantly, I couldn't believe the point being made here! It's like they were saying, "It really hurt to be picked on in high school, but Jesus loves you and thinks you're beautiful and guess what? You're going to show them! You're going to be the only one who's happy and smiling and beautiful! All of the Jesus-haters will have awful lives and yours will be great!"

Okay, so that may be a step too far, but not by much.

I often find that Christians - especially on Christian radio - make the Christian life out to be something that provides an easy, simple answer to every problem. Those who don't follow the Christian life will live miserable lives because they don't have all of the answers.

Listen, I believe in the power of Christ to change lives. I think those who put their trust in Christ are better off than those who don't for multiple reasons.

But sticking it to your high school bullies is not one of those reasons. I don't think that those who don't believe in Jesus are by default unhappy, self-centered, mean people whose failure to follow Jesus will prove to render them the lowest of the low at the 30-year reunion.

And even if I did believe that, stating it so carelessly on the radio seems like a sure way to get rid of every listener you may have who doesn't believe in Jesus.

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