Last Loop

This morning, for what will almost certainly be the last time, I took my morning walk around the Yantis Loop walking path.

IMG_4250For many years now — I’m not sure exactly how long, really — I’ve started my day with this walk.  I’ve taken it virtually every morning we’ve been home, rain or shine, save only days when we’ve been blitzed by freezing rain or I was laid up after foot surgery.  I’ve walked it with Dusty, Penny, and Kasey, or accompanied only by my trusty iPod, in darkness and in the golden rays of dawn depending on the season and the vagaries of Daylight Savings Time.

And every day, the path is precisely the same — something that Kish finds very amusing.  It’s left out of our house, left on Alpath Road, right on Ogden Woods Boulevard, and then right — always right — on the Yantis Loop itself, so that the familiar white fence is ever on my left.  Then, past the top of the Loop, over the boardwalk around the pond at number 5 North and following the curves of the Loop as it heads back due north, then veering from the Loop to head up Route 62 to join up with Alpath once again.  All told, it’s about a two-mile circuit.

The sameness of this early morning journey is part of its enormous appeal.  My feet know where to go, the walk clears my sleep-addled brain, and the quiet and peaceful surroundings of the stroll make for ideal thinking time.  I get a little exercise out of it, too.

I’m looking forward to our move to German Village, but my walk on the Yantis Loop is one of the things I’ll really miss about New Albany, so this morning’s final effort was a wistful experience.  I’m going to try to replicate the Loop — somewhat — by regularly walking to work from our new place, but moving through the streets of downtown Columbus can’t really fully substitute for the familiar, bucolic path along the white fence.

The Dark Underbelly Of The Elf On A Shelf

Millions of American households with young children have an “elf on a shelf.”  As explained to me — because the elf didn’t become popular until well after Richard and Russell were out of their childhood years — the elf is a little figure that changes its position from time to time and moves from room to room, supposedly so he can keep an eye on things and report back to Santa Claus on whether the kids of the family are being naughty or nice.

Now a Canadian professor contends that there is more to the “elf on a shelf” than meets the eye.  Rather than an innocent yet tangible expression of the power of belief in Santa Claus, she contends that the “elf on a shelf” conditions children to uncritically accept existing power structures and norms and to get used to lack of privacy and being spied upon.

So . . . even if that questionable theory is true, what’s wrong with that?  Speaking as a parent, I wanted our kids to accept the existing power structure — namely, that Kish and I got to call the tune in the Webner household — and to think that if they were doing something bad, it would be discovered and reported.  Fortunately, our kids were little angels at all times.

Of course, the combination of Christmas and spying goes back to well before the “elf on a shelf” first made his appearance.  Santa Claus, of course, knows if you’ve been naughty or nice — so he’s not only spying on your kids, but he’s also judging them.  If we’re worried about the impact of naughty/nice spying on children’s psyches, maybe we also should ask what gives Santa the right to judge our kids?  Obviously, a guy who smokes a pipe, wears real furs, and has a gut that shakes “like a bowl full of jelly” when he laughs is not living a perfect, healthy, blameless lifestyle, so why should he be deciding whether a little kid is abiding by accepted societal norms?

Maybe there’s a deep, dark underbelly here — or maybe professors at the University of Toronto Institute of Technology need to relax and realize that kids trying desperately to control their inner demons for a few weeks each December in order to maximize their presents is part of the magic of the holiday season.

Leaving New Albany

This afternoon we close on the sale of our home in New Albany, Ohio.  We’ll move out later this week, hand the keys over to the new owners, and just like that our 19-year sojourn in the North of Woods neighborhood of New Albany will be ended.

IMG_6180Yesterday Kish and I were madly packing up clothing, books, dishes, and the contents of our cupboards in preparation for the move.  It’s one of those basic chores that fully occupies your lower brain function — you have to pay enough attention to make sure that the boxes are securely packed, after all — but leaves the upper brain free to roam.  In this instance, my mind naturally turned to the notion of chapters ending, and new chapters beginning.

I tend not to be sentimental about homes; people and experiences are far more meaningful to me than structures.  Even so, I’ll miss this tidy wooden house where we watched the boys grow up, where we have put down deep roots and have such a strong sense of place and belonging.  We’ll miss our neighbors and the annual Halloween celebrations, we’ll miss the white fences, we’ll miss our walks to the library and around the block with Penny and Kasey, and we’ll miss seeing the ‘hood  continue to grow and develop.

But, it’s time to move on.  Today is another step in the process.

Off The School Calendar

A few months ago Kish and I were planning a trip.  “When do you want to go?,” she asked. “I don’t know,” I responded. “I guess over Christmas break, or spring break, or during summer vacation.”

“You know,” my wise and worldly wife responded, “it would be a lot cheaper if we didn’t go on a schedule dictated by the school year calendar.”  She was right, of course.  In fact, travel booked at times of the year when kids are in school and families therefore are chained to their homes is considerably less expensive than travel during the peak school vacation periods.  I felt like a dunce not thinking of that in the first place.

It was shocking to me that, seven years after our youngest left for college, I was still thinking in terms of the school calendar, when all vacations must be wedged into the little snippets of the calendar left open by some faceless administrator.  It probably shouldn’t be surprising, however.  When you are a parent and your kids are at home, over the years your time frames inevitably become synced to the Xeroxed schedule passed out at the first open house of the year.  You become conditioned to thinking that way, and when the kids are gone from the house you stick to the old school-defined vacation patterns, even though you don’t need to any longer.

There are good things and bad things about being an empty-nester — and one of the good things is that you can find some nice vacation deals if you’re willing to travel in, say, early December right after Thanksgiving or the middle of February.  Why not take advantage of the fact that you’re no longer shackled by the notion of “breaks”?

Black Friday At Toys ‘R’ Us

Richard spent Black Friday at a Jacksonville, Florida Toys ‘R’ Us and wrote a good story about how Black Friday is changing for the Florida Times-Union.  On his Twitter account he reported that he was amazed at how little the store layout had changed from the last time he went to Toys ‘R’ Us as a kid.

The mention of Toys ‘R’ Us made my skin crawl and brought back some memories — all of them unpleasant.  I absolutely hated going to that store — in our case, the outlet near the intersection of Sawmill Road and 161 in northwest Columbus — and ‘m not sure exactly why.  Maybe it was the greedy, screaming kids who always seemed to be found there in terrible abundance.  Maybe it was the fact that all of the products for sale seemed cheaply made and grossly overpriced.  Maybe it was our bad luck in always getting a shopping cart with a broken wheel that stopped rotating when we were on aisle 3.

When you are a parent, you go through a number of rites of passage with your kids — some good, some bad.  When Richard and Russell were past the age when they wanted toys, and we were blissfully relieved of the need to every again go to a Toys ‘R’ Us, it was a milestone worth celebrating.

Dissing The American Dream

An economics professor at the University of California Davis has crunched some numbers and concluded that the American Dream is a myth.

In fact, Professor Gregory Clark’s review of the data concludes that there has been no more social mobility in America over the past 100 years than there was in medieval England or pre-industrial Sweden.  Hard work, education, seizing opportunity, and saving doesn’t make a difference, he says.  Instead, the socioeconomic status of your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will be closely related to your status.

IMG_3184Professor Clark’s students apparently are skeptical of his data — how did he get it, how did he analyze it, and did he manipulate it? — and his conclusions.  So am I.  The reason for the skepticism is that many American families have featured living examples of the American Dream who lifted themselves up by their bootstraps and radically changed their circumstances.

In our immediate family I can think of at least two:  my grandfather, who was born into a Kentucky hill family so poor he was thrilled to get a single orange for Christmas, moved to Akron because there were jobs there, took a messenger job with a bank, rose through the ranks, and retired 55 years later as the bank’s president and chairman of the board; and my father, who made it through law school without buying a book because he couldn’t afford it, had a facility for numbers, and achieved great success as a businessman that allowed him to retire at an early age.  I don’t care what Professor Clark’s numbers say — I know from direct family history that America is truly the Land of Opportunity.

Professor Clark seems to think he is some economics truth-teller who is bursting the bubbles of his students.  He isn’t, because family example is far more meaningful and real than an economics professor and his dusty statistics.  The American Dream is powerful precisely because we know it has happened.  It sounds like Professor Clark could stand to do some dreaming himself.

Good Football Weather

When I stepped outside for my walk on this morning of the Ohio State-Michigan game, I immediately thought of my father.

IMG_1875It was because of the weather — crisp and clear, with the stars sharply outlined and the steam from breath rising upward into the chill.  Those are the kind of conditions that would cause my father to lean back, sniff the air, nod approvingly, and say:  “Good football weather.”

Every Midwestern football fan knows exactly what that phrase means.  It means dry conditions, because no one wants to watch football or play football in a downpour.  It means a day that is not too windy and where there is a significant difference between being in the sunshine and being in the shade.  It means a temperature that is cold, but not too cold; in the 30s or 40s, where you can bundle up and layer against the chill and a few hours outside will bring color to everyone’s cheeks.  The kind of day when you enjoy having your core warmed by a well-prepared toddy, or Bloody Mary, or Irish Coffee at a tailgate and can hear the crack of the pads echoing through the stadium as the crowd roars.

Yes, it’s good football weather today for The Game.  Go Bucks!