Emily Appleseed

One of Russell’s friends and fellow Cranbrook Academy graduates is interested in urban farming.  Emily has started a fruit farm in the middle of Detroit on some derelict property, in hopes of bringing fruit and a neighborhood resource to families in the area who don’t have ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  It’s an incredibly cool idea that shows that, once again, one person and a dream can really make a difference in America.

Emily’s efforts are being chronicled in a Detroit Journal video series called Emily Appleseed.  You can watch the first episode above.  Russell himself makes an appearance in the second video, below, helping to clear the property and following a tractor to turn the soil.  He looks like a natural farmer.  His grandfather, Bill Kishman, who was a farmer for many years, would be proud.  The rest of the series can be found on YouTube.

30

Today Richard turns 30.  It’s one of those round number birthdays, divisible by ten without fractional results, that we tend to think of as especially significant.  Of course, in reality it’s just the turn of a calendar page; it’s not as if the adulthood fairy taps you with her wand when you turn 30 and converts you into a real grown-up.

And yet, it’s significant just the same, isn’t it?

I think we tend to focus on those round number birthdays, especially the early ones, because each decade of our existence can be aptly captured by a word or two.  From zero to 10 you’re just a kid, happy and unselfconscious and wondering at the world and soaking up just about everything.  From 10 to 20, you’re the self-absorbed teenager, fretting about your popularity and your place in the social, sports, and academic order at middle school and high school and college.  And in your 20s, you’re trying to figure out which way your life will go, finishing college, taking your first long-term job and then leaving it, moving from one city to another, and perhaps getting a second degree.

0001993830, though, seems to be the jump-off point for real adulthood.  You’ve settled on your career, and your personal situation is more settled, too.  People treat you like a fully functional, contributing member of society.  You stop getting carded at bars.  And for some of us, your parents start to lean on you for help and support and — gulp! — advice and decision-making.  After you hit 30, Mom and Dad start to seem a lot less iconic and a lot more human.

I distinctly remember when Kish and I turned 30.  We hosted a party for our friends at a local joint called the Grandview Cafe.  All of the people who were there were couples about our age, early in their careers, with little kids at home.  It was a fun party, but not the kind of wild, kick out the jams, loud-music-and-on-the-edge-of-barfing revelry of earlier days.  At the time I had worked at the firm for about eight months, Richard hadn’t quite hit his first birthday, and unbeknownst to us Russell would be joining the family a year later.  We were no longer on the cusp of adulthood — it had arrived.

Parents tend to hold on to a mental image of their kids as kids — or at least, I do.  When I think of Richard, my brain begins with the skinny, blond-haired kid who loved Home Alone and liked to build elaborate Lego worlds and created a comic-book character named Blurby and loved roller coasters.  That mental image is no longer accurate, and hasn’t been accurate for a long time.  He’s built a successful career as a talented professional journalist, he’s engaged to be married, and he’s been thoughtfully navigating the shoals of adulthood, on his own, for several years now.

In short, he’s 30.

Happy birthday, Richard!

Marine Mammal Deaths At SeaWorld

On Sunday the San Antonio Express News published a terrific, but immensely sad, story by Richard about the deaths of orcas, dolphins, and other mammals at the SeaWorld parks.  What’s Killing the Orcas at SeaWorld? takes a careful look at the statistics of creatures dying at SeaWorld and quotes trainers, SeaWorld employees, research studies, and animal rights activists in an effort to address the care of marine mammals in captivity and whether they are more likely to die than members of their species in the wild.

Infections seem to be a huge problem for marine mammals in captivity.  Richard’s story reviewed reports that SeaWorld filed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and calculated that almost 150 orcas, dolphins, sea lions, and beluga whales have died of infections at SeaWorld since 1986, and five dolphins, whales, and sea lions have died of various infections — such as fungal infections, bacterial infections, and inflammation of the brain — since May 2014.

wild-orca-alaska_siThe big point of contention is whether living in captivity contributes to those deaths, as animal rights advocates contend, or whether the creatures at Sea World are no more prone to infections than members of the species living in the wild.  As Richard’s article reports, that’s tough to assess, because there aren’t many reliable studies of the lives of these mammals in their native habitat.  Animal rights advocates argue that creatures that have evolved over millennia to range widely over large areas of ocean, hunt their own food, and form relationships in the wild simply aren’t suited to captivity.  The advocates believe the orcas become stressed (and show it by breaking their teeth chewing on concrete and metal) and the stress makes them more prone to infection.  Richard’s article quotes some former SeaWorld trainers who talk about the constant medication that some of the mammals have received.  And while we don’t know the prevalence of infection deaths in the wild, we do know this — orcas, dolphins, and sea lions have somehow survived and thrived in our oceans for centuries without have to be heavily medicated by human beings.

I should note that SeaWorld has criticized Richard’s story, saying on its blog:  “The article is unfairly critical of SeaWorld and misleads readers with incomplete sets of facts that are presented in a biased way.”  I respectfully disagree.  I think the piece is a fair treatment of an important issue that employs the tools of great investigative journalism, like review of public records, getting quotes from people on both sides of the story and experts, and then trying to piece things together.  The reality is that the death of the marine mammals in the care of SeaWorld is just an uncomfortable topic for SeaWorld.

I’ve never cared much for zoos or places like SeaWorld.  I feel sorry for the animals that are caged, and I think it reflects poorly on us that we keep creatures that are meant to be in the wild penned up for our entertainment.  It’s particularly appalling that we confine marine mammals that show clear signs of intelligence, like orcas, and then have to dope them up to try to keep them alive.  Richard’s story just heightens that view.

Believeland

ESPN has a new one of its “30 for 30″programs out.  It’s called Believeland, and it’s about (gulp) professional sports in Cleveland.

Russell and I were talking about it the other day, and he asked if I had watched it.  And I had — at least, the very first part.  But when we got to The Drive, and I knew that The Fumble would be close behind, and then I would have to re-live the Indians’ World Series losses and Michael Jordan’s shot to beat the Cavs and the Browns leaving to go to Baltimore, I switched it off.  It was just too painful to watch all of that crap, again.  Living through it once and feeling like you have been not only utterly forsaken, but also the object of affirmative torture by the sports gods, was more than enough.

il_214x170-890063290_27m0I was kind of embarrassed to admit this to Russell, who also is a Cleveland sports fan.  But Dads who are sports fans have to be honest with their kids about it.  There’s good in being a sports fan, but there’s also a lot of pain and angst and feeling like an idiot because you care so much about a team that you can’t sleep when they lose a big game and sometimes you admit in candor that a bad loss will not only wreck your day, but also wreck your month or even your year, and that there are some bad things that happened — like those mentioned in the preceding paragraph — that will haunt you for the rest of your days until you go toes up.

Interestingly, Russell said he enjoyed the program, because he hadn’t lived through it, and he felt it gave him an understanding of Cleveland and its beleaguered fans that he just hadn’t had before.  It was educational, rather than painful.  And maybe that’s the right way to look at it.  Maybe, until that glorious day in 2137 when a Cleveland team finally wins another world championship, every Dad or Mom who indoctrinates his child into the brotherhood of Cleveland sports fanship should sit that child down in front of the TV, make them watch Believeland, and then ask the crucial question:

Are you sure you’re ready for this?

Before And After

IMG_0752This year we decided to do some work to the bed in front of our house.  It was okay in its former state, but the bushes were getting somewhat overgrown and we thought the bed had a crowded, cluttered look.  So, we decided to eliminate the two-tier design, dig out the big bushes (except for the one right next to the stairs), and go for a more spartan look.  In the process, we also decided to expand the brickwork to create a space for a wrought-iron bench and some planters.

We’re happy with the results, which allow you to see more of the house itself and also will give us room to plant some flowers.

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The Uncomfortable Verticality Principle

It’s kind of pathetic, really.  It’s gotten to the point that, if I want to do some reading after dinner on a week night, I have to sit in the most uncomfortable, upright, hard-on-the-behind chair in the house.

IMG_1003My search for the optimal week night reading seat is based on the principle of uncomfortable verticality.  Expressed it in the form of a mathematical equation, the amount of uncomfortable verticality in my reading posture is inversely proportionate to the likelihood that I will nod off after a few pages.  The converse also is true.  We’ve got lots of inviting chairs and plumply pillowed sofas in the house, just begging for seating, but if I plop down into one of them with a book, forget it.  After a few minutes I’ll put my feet up — hey, it is the end of a long work day, after all — and then a few moments later I’ll make a small adjustment to assume a more horizontal attitude, and the next thing I know it’s 11 p.m. and I’ve got a sore neck and Kish is gently shaking my shoulder and telling me its time to stumble upstairs.

Fortunately, we’ve inherited some furniture that is well suited to the uncomfortable verticality principle.  Our stern Midwestern forebears knew how to design fundamentally incommodious seating, let me tell you.  And don’t be deceived by the modest needlepoint padding on the seat either.  Wooden, narrow, and creaky, this chair inevitably forces you into a stiff-backed, non-fidgeting, feet-planted-firmly-on-the-ground posture that would get an approving nod from Emily Post or any other paragon of deportment.  Indeed, even a slight attempt to shift into a more natural position, or for that matter the first slumbering nod, would produce a cascade of creaks and send you tumbling to the ground.  In short, this is a chair designed to create a perpetual state of maximum reading alertness.

So, it’s my new reading chair of choice.  I’ll finish the night’s reading with a numb behind, to be sure, but at least I’ll get a few chapters done before it’s time to really hit the hay.

Why Don’t People Save More?

In America, the personal savings rate, by household, continues to decline from year to year.  Although the U.S. isn’t dead last in the world, American households lag well behind most developed countries when it comes to salting money away for the future.

monopoly-banker-with-empty-pockets-900x900Why?  Why aren’t adult Americans more focused on saving for a rainy day, or having a contingency fund, even a modest one, that they can fall back on if a personal emergency hits?  The savings deficiency is reflected both in the lack of money kept for use if the need arises in everyday life — like a special health care bill or car repair — and the shocking statistics that you read from time to time about how little the average household has saved for retirement.

An interesting Bloomberg article posits that the causes are a combination of keeping up with the Joneses and helicopter parenting.  The article’s headline aptly captures its gist:  “Parents Are Bankrupting Themselves to Look Adequate.”  The concept is that while there are a lot of causes for the non-savings phenomenon — easy credit and more credit, the development of previously unavailable goods and products, like miracle drugs, that cost a lot, and so on — a big one is that parents feel so competitive about things like schools,  activities like expensive camps, or clothes and cars for their kids that they are spending themselves to the brink of oblivion, to the point where even a modest reversal of fortune plunges them over the financial abyss.

Are parents now more focused on getting the best for their kids at all costs than, say, parents of the ’60s and ’70s?  Probably, and for some people it’s likely a combination of competitiveness and irrationality, where parents just aren’t willing to say no to, say, putting their kid on a sports travel team that requires the whole family to travel to some faraway spot virtually every weekend and stay in a hotel while the kid is involved in contests.   I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine my parents doing that.

In my view, though, the big underlying difference between this generation and those that have gone before is personal experience.  My parents lived through the Great Depression as children and saw what is was like.  They knew that disaster could strike and that the best way to prepare for that possibility was to save.  I got that understanding from my parents and grandparents, for whom the Depression was always a very real thing.  If you’ve never really experienced adversity, and aren’t thinking it’s really a plausible scenario, then you might well borrow to the hilt to buy fancy cars for your kids or to finance a high-end school, expecting that things will somehow work out.  And although the Great Recession had some impact on this seemingly pervasive sense that everything will be OK, and caused a little upward blip in savings, its impact has dissipated and the savings rate has dropped back to incredibly low levels.

Sometimes, bad things do happen.  If you don’t have some savings that you can fall back on, you’re stuck — and that useful life lesson just comes too late.