Life is a Mystery

23 August 2010 . Comments Off on Move in, move out, move on

Move in, move out, move on

Wow, talk about blindsided. We have been so busy preparing to move Alex to St. John’s that I somehow missed the fact that he’d really be moving out of our house. The cat just meowed to me. She does not realize the world has changed.

Moving Alex was an adventure. We love our Prius, but this was one time when it just could not handle the job. We swapped our car for a friend’s minivan, then proceeded to fill the back. This sweaty job at home became a breeze to unload on campus. We were among the first to arrive and a whole crew of about a dozen green-shirted orientation helpers whisked everything to Alex’s third-floor room in just a few minutes! This was incredibly helpful and very welcoming.

We spent a couple hours helping Alex do everything from arrange the furniture to make the bed to sort out the closet to set up his room network. But the real work of the day was letting go. Were we really going to leave Alex here, in this room, on this campus? Of course, on one level we knew that we were. We’d been planning this with him for months if not longer. We’d been dreaming it was possible for years. Yes, we were leaving him. Yet in another sense it was agonizing. While excited about the potential of his future in this place surrounded by these caring people, I suddenly realized he would not be with us daily any longer, he would not be sitting at the dinner table each evening, I would not be stretching his foot before bed. These are rituals of long standing.

My heart began to break. I could once carry Alex on one arm. I remember his first glasses (while he was still absurdly young). His smiles and laughter nourish me even as his teenage contrariness exasperate me. I have forgotten life without him. Now I was faced with it.

Our little family of four enters a new configuration, never before tested: 3+1. We three will build something new together here in Saint Paul. He will build anew in Collegeville. I trust we will find a new balance of joys and frustrations that fill our home with life and love. I believe Alex will find himself, discover his passions, and make true friends. Still, facing that change I just wanted to hang on to Alex, retreat, hide out together. As we hugged (!) and cried (!) I didn’t want to let go. Not ever.

So maybe, in my heart, I won’t. I’ll do my best to give him the space he needs and deserves (ok, I won’t drive that new router to Collegeville personally), but he is right there in my heart. I hope he blogs again (last entry was back in May!) or tweets regularly. I’d like to hear the rustle of his wings as they unfold. But the flying I’ll leave to him. Proud papa, I’ll watch from a little ways off.

Being at the tail end of the baby boom has the benefit of seeing your stage in life peppering the mass media. In this case, I am running into story after story of parents dropping their kids off at college. I used to think that the thing to say to parents sending off their kids was: “Congratulations!” Now I realize that asking “How are you doing?” would be just as much in order.

Off to camp!

27 January 2010 . Comments Off on SubCalc at the App Store

SubCalc at the App Store

As folks who read this blog know, I have been pretty hard on Apple about their overzealous policing of the iPhone App Store. Today I have a very personal reason to acknowledge a job well done. Apple took only three days to review the app Alex and I submitted on 1/25. Today SubCalc became a free app on the App Store.

SubCalc is an app to help convenors of precinct caucuses and conventions in Minnesota. The Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) party uses a wonderful, but bit arcane, “walking subcaucus” process that is simple enough to do, but rather difficult to tabulate.

This app calculates the number of delegates each subcaucus gets when you enter the total number of delegates your precinct or convention is allowed and how many people are in each subcaucus. The rules it follows appeared on page 4 of the DFL 2010-2011 Official Call, including the proper treatment of remainders. It makes the math involved in a walking subcaucus disappear.

The app could be used to facilitate a “walking subcaucus” or “proportional representation” system for any group.

If you don’t have an iPhone, try the “web app” version of this subcaucus calculator for at But if you do have an iPhone or iPod Touch (or iPad!) please give SubCalc a spin!


9 September 2009 . 1 Comment

Lunch box

School started yesterday and that got me thinking about lunch. How do you handle lunchtime? In Austria lunch is the big meal of the day and dinner is small and snackish. I love that. But here in the USofA it is hard to pull off that kind of schedule. Lunch is often away from home, at school, at work. Eating out (or eating school lunch) is one way to handle this meal, but that can be expensive and not-so-nutricious. The New York Times published a story on Bento Boxes that was full of interesting ideas.

Nathaniel has become very creative in the kitchen, devouring the Betty Crocker cookbook, making lunches and dinners all last week, and wondering when he’ll have time to cook during the school year. He also loves things Japanese, like sushi (well, some sushi). Maybe making bento boxes is an idea that would work for him?


23 August 2009 . Comments Off on Harry Christ

Harry Christ

Well, not quite, but not far off. In the Boston Globe this week, The Book of Harry.

Eisenstadt sees Dumbledore and Harry, in different ways, as Christ figures – perhaps Harry representing the human Jesus, and Dumbledore the divine. And she posits that the New Testament depiction of elements of the Jewish community is represented by the goblins (unappealing bankers) and the Ministry of Magic (legalistic and small-minded).

But I am much more attracted to a quote near the end of the article.

“Rather than decrying as wicked certain elements of the series – as far too many Christians have done – we ought to be inviting our communities into deeper appreciation of both the similarities and the contrasts between the stories and our Christian faith,” Mary Hess, of Luther Seminary in Minnesota, writes in the journal Word & World.

Mary in the mainstream! And in an article linked to one of her favorite blogs no less. Yeah, Mary!


11 June 2009 . Comments Off on Obama in the house

Obama in the house

President Obama visited my niece’s high school in Green Bay today, rolled out his health care plan and took questions at a town hall meeting. My sister-in-love Holly was hoping to get in the door, she lives only a few blocks from the school. She asked for ideas of questions to ask in case she was able to attend. This is the question I sent her:

Mr. President, I am so pleased that you have made health care a top priority this year. When I look at the endless bills we get for health care and the fights I have with my insurance company to even get the coverage we paid for, it seems obvious that one of the biggest costs in health care is the cost of maintaining this supposedly “market-based” system. Most of us in the real world don’t really have a choice about insurance, our choices are made by our employers. How does the plan moving forward right now address the huge costs of the redundant billing and decision making infrastructures that our commercial insurance industry represents? And why have single-payer plans, which directly address this shortcoming in our bewildering health care system, been left off the table in your planning?

I don’t know if Holly got in or asked any question, much less mine. But from reports it sounds like someone brought up the issue:

President Barack Obama took questions from audience members after his speech on health care reform at today’s town-hall meeting at Southwest High School.

After a member of the audience asked him if he supported a single-payer health plan, Obama said he does not support what is being called “socialized medicine.”

“The majority of people still get their insurance through their employer, Obama said. “Rather than disrupt things, let them keep the health insurance they’ve got. There still is a role for private insurance.”

For others, however, who can’t get insurance privately should have an option for a public plan.

It is disappointing to hear Obama use codewords like “socialized medicine” to tar single payer. I’m not surprised, single payer was never even part of his campaign platform, but I am sad that he does not leave the door open at least a little bit. Employer-based insurance is part of what is dragging our economy into the mud, but I don’t expect the light to dawn on the mainstream in this regard for at least another two years. It’s failure will be plenty disruptive. I certainly hope that what the president and congress is working on succeeds, but that is not my expectation. I think we’ll be back here before his term is up.


UPDATE: Holly did not get in after all. But she did see the motorcade! Here is my favorite moment from YouTube

11 May 2009 . 1 Comment

Worst case scenario

Mary loves walking Nathaniel to the school bus because it is a time that he often shares things happening in his life that she might not otherwise learn about. I can understand that. I love those moments of sharing. Still, I wish we could let our kids go a bit further afield. The other day I let Nathaniel go to the local park with two friends to play basketball. That earned me a horrified look and an order to head over to the park myself to keep an eye on the three of them. I went, I played b-ball too, I had fun. But I failed to let Nathaniel and his friends own the afternoon.

Today Andrew pointed me to an interview of Lenore Skenazy. Remember her? She let her 9 year old ride the subway alone in New York, earning all sorts of praise and condemnation. I believe she is right, we fundamentally wrap our kids in too much “protection”. They need room to grow, we keep them in pots way too small.

You want kids to feel like the world isn’t so dangerous. You want to teach them how to cross the street safely. You want to teach them that you never go off with a stranger. You teach them what to do in an emergency, and then you assume that generally emergencies don’t happen, but they’re prepared if they do. Then, you let them go out.

The fun of childhood is not holding your mom’s hand. The fun of childhood is when you don’t have to hold your mom’s hand, when you’ve done something that you can feel proud of. To take all those possibilities away from our kids seems like saying: “I’m giving you the greatest gift of all, I’m giving you safety. Oh, and by the way I’m taking away your childhood and any sense of self-confidence or pride. I hope you don’t mind.”

Amen. Of course, some kids will be hurt this way, but you know, kids get hurt every way you turn. How do kids get hurt the most? By being in cars with their parents.

We visit my grandmother in Austria regularly. On a recent trip my kids worked up a “Vienna Culture” comic book. Many pages were devoted to public transit, and one in particular to kids taking public transit to school. Alone. Heck, I took public transit alone in Cleveland, Ohio, from third to sixth grade. Why do we run school busses hither and yon instead of making public transit more multi-age and core to our society?

We worry so much about the worst case scenario instead of celebrating the varied and welcoming world around us. The irony is that the more we wall ourselves and our children off from the chaotic and beautiful world around us, the more that world loses its light and our children fail to thrive. Sounds like a vicious cycle to me.


7 May 2009 . Comments Off on Partners in Cleveland

Partners in Cleveland

Today my home town of Cleveland, Ohio, began to accept domestic partner registrations. As bigger dominos fall around the country (yeah Maine yesterday!) this can seem like a small step. But even small steps help move us forward. I particularly like that heterosexual couples are registering, some in lieu of marriage, as an act of solidarity with gay friends. One couple writes:

We’ve both always felt strongly about equal rights for everyone, and for the past four months, we’ve been working with the gay-rights organization called Ask Cleveland, on their “Keep the Registry!” campaign. Marriage may be in our future somewhere down the line, but we feel it is important for us to show our support for the LGBT community by registering now.

When we were married, we shared our vows with everyone who joined us, because we knew many of them had not been allowed to share such vows with one another publicly. I am hopeful that the day is coming when our friends won’t be excluded from the peculiar pleasure and pain that is marriage.


6 May 2009 . Comments Off on 70.3 Miles to Africa

70.3 Miles to Africa

Marika Viragh has created a wonderful “Race to Africa” project for her senior year in high school. She hopes to attract support for kids at the Ubumwe Community Center in Rwanda. She’s collecting shoes and dollars. Consider it.

I’m also impressed with the webhost she’s found for her site. Squarespace looks a bit like an iWeb that could actually work: solid hosting with the sugar of interesting design.

30 April 2009 . Comments Off on A day in the life

A day in the life

Nathaniel just played his last basketball of the season today. It is really fun to watch him growing and enjoying games like this.

Then this evening I found this picture on Flickr.


I guess I’m not the only one who enjoys watching his kid play ball!

15 March 2009 . Comments Off on PD: Celeste Family Edition

PD: Celeste Family Edition

Today’s front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer feels like a Celeste family edition to this far-removed Clevelander. The Sunday PD’s painful article about the closing of parishes in Cleveland includes an image of St. Colman’s and another of St. Malachi’s. St. Colman’s is the church I went to as a boy, it is where I had my first communion. I remember waiting on the street after Sunday School there, thinking heretical thoughts about our lessons. St. Malachi’s is where we worshiped as a family when I was a bit older, though high school. I learned to love the music now in the Gather hymnal there. My sister was married there. It looks like St. Colman’s will be closing as the Cleveland Catholic Diocese adjusts to new demographic realities. St. Malachi’s will stay open, though the picture in the paper is a far cry from the standing-room-only crowds I remember there in my youth. Sad news, though I must say the church is bringing this on itself.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the front page a glimmer of happier news from the Cleveland International Film Festival. My sister has worked with the film festival for years and next week I may have my first chance to attend since she has been involved. Happy news!


Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /