Sunday, December 20, 2015

Star of Wonder, Star of of Night

Sometimes it seems that we truly live in the land of three wee kings.

Take for instance this exchange that passed for routine conversation amongst two of our children as we drove through the annual Sunset Hills Lighted Balls Christmas Light Display:

Doc: "Oh look at that one. It's a star." 
Jack: "That's not a star. It's a small baby blob in that awkward phase where it is shooting off bursts of fire and gas.\ 
Doc: "......" 
Jack: "You know, that's how stars form." 
Doc: "Well since it's on their porch, I sure do hope it keeps most of it's flaming gas bursts to itself." 
Sam: "I have gas. But mine's not on fire." 
Jack: "Sam, you don't have gas. You are not a baby starting to form. You are a human. But you ARE in that awkward phase." 
Sam: "MOMMY!! Jackson called me awk...ak...ahk....Jackson called me a name!"
Indeed, there is wisdom from the mouths of babes.

Also, here is some cool drone footage of this years' "Running of the Balls":

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Parting Glass, or The Joyous Life of a Thousand Goodbyes

Oh all the money that e'er I had / I spent it in good company
And all the harm that e'er I've done / Alas it was to none but me
And all I've done for want of wit / To memory now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass / Goodnight and joy be with you all

Oh all the comrades that e'er I've had / are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I've had / would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot / That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call / Goodnight and joy be with you all

Doctor and author Atul Gawande spoke last month at the Bryan Lecture Series about the effects of age, and the effect of proximity of death - really, the increased uncertainty regarding the risk of loss which age and some other conditions bring - on people’s perceived well-being and happiness. Dr. Gawande cites a study out of Stanford that shows fairly conclusively that the closer people are to the uncertainty of life - either to the end of their own life or to situations and circumstances that increase the possibility that life will soon end - the happier they are, the more they appreciate life. If you haven't yet read his book on this topic, "Being Mortal," then I commend it to you. 

I got to hang out this weekend with a fine bunch of Americans - men that don't need to read a book to appreciate the essence of Gawande's insights. Greater appreciation for life results from increased proximity to uncertainty regarding death? I think we call that sometimes wisdom.  It would be an unsurprising observation to many of These Men, no longer quite as young as they once were but still just as fine and full of spirit. 

Reflecting on the weekend, I want to tell them this, in ways that is hard to do over a beer or in a large ballroom: There is really no one else in this country that is as well equipped to live a joyous life as you guys are.  You have been there and you have seen the elephant, and you have come back. And whether it was through your own courage or plain dumb luck or directly due to the sacrifice of another - whether you deserve to be here or whether you do not deserve to be here -  it doesn’t matter.  You’re here.  You have an opportunity to live a joyous life.  You have learned, or had the opportunity to learn, how precious life is, how fleeting it can be, but also how glorious it can be in that uncertainty.  

The new Star Wars movie is coming out, a couple trailers released. I like many other males of a certain vintage have watched with pleasure these trailers and am excited to see the movie come out. I saw the third and final trailer just last week, right before heading to Las Vegas, and it’s a moving piece and it’s exciting.  It stirs the blood partly because you know what came before, you’ve seen all the movies, and to see a saga like that carried on is phenomenal.  But Jesus, there was one scene in that movie that spoke to me in a way that I’m not sure really spoke to many people.  Fleeting scene.  Here it is, cued up to the right spot (1:31):

Did you see - it's only a few seconds, 1:31 to 1:36. Have you ever shaken somebody’s hand in a moment like this?  Have you once been a warrior, walking off to the field of battle, and passed a fellow warrior headed out and stopped and said, "I need to shake this man’s hand one more time.  I need to look him in the eye and say I am proud to shake his hand and tell him to go off and do his job."  Yes, you have.  And the gaze between the two men, burning over the short distance, the clasp of hands pausing in a hectic moment. It was worth your time to stop and shake their hand, and that – whether the director intended that or not, whether he understood that or not, these actors nailed it. Fighter pilots scrambling to alert out on the tarmac; bombing crews huddling one last time before they go to their navigation seat, bombardier stations, ball turret guns; infantrymen leaving the wire on patrol.

You know that hand shake.  You’ve had a last hand shake with somebody. And it was worth it to say goodbye, so many other times when it turned out to be unnecessary.  Because once or twice, it was the last chance you had to shake That Man's hand. The Joyous Life of a Thousand Goodbyes.

It's hard to get together after 10+ years. It's hard to discover - almost surprisingly - that you are as at home with this group as you are with anyone else in the human race, because you know this weekend will be fleeting, and there will then be a void when it is over.  It's even harder still to part ways again, uncertain when in the next decade you will again have the chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with These Men. It was overwhelmingly therapeutic to see nearly 100 of our alumni answering this new call to arms: to reassemble and reminisce over scotch, cigars, and warm hazy memories of the finest days of our young lives, and the finest of us that did not return.

Best men I've ever known. Best job I ever had.

Goodnight, and joy be with you all 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Day Without Rain

We have had rain in Greensboro for 31 of the last 48 days. Honestly, I had to check - I don't recall there being that much sunshine since mid September. Perhaps there wasn't - surely several of those days in which no precipitation was recorded at KGSO, the day was nevertheless the sky was cloudy and overcast and the ground was wet.

After spending most of yesterday barefoot, outdoors and in the rain at the James K. Polk birthplace, we lucked out with an overcast and chilly but reasonably dry November day. And for the kids it was like a jailbreak.

We went to the science center, saw the new Pacific Giant Octopus and all of our old friend, the gibbons and fishing cats and tigers and meerkats. Funny how we always run into people we know - I saw a buddy from downtown, Jack saw a friend from his class as Sternberger ("Daddy, I'm too embarrassed to go talk to her." Well, she ran right over to talk to Jack - embarrassment solved).

We bounded over to Guilford Courthouse and spent some time romping through the woods, leaving the path or trail whenever feasible.

Not to call it quits too early, we played a little front-yard soccer and did some driveway chalk art.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

From the Halls of Montezuma...

The opening line of The Marine's Hymn no doubt has its roots, much like the resolution of the Oregon boundary dispute and the annexation of Texas, in the presidency of our Nation's Eleventh President.

James K. Polk, just one of three U.S. presidents born in North Carolina (yes, of course I am counting Andrew Jackson despite South Carolina's claim to the contrary - but yet Polk's birthplace is only a mile from the state line), was responsible for the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846, for which he sought and obtained a declaration of war from Congress. "From The Halls of Montezuma" refers to the Battle of Chapultepec, 12-13 September 1847, during which a force of Marines stormed Chapultepec Castle in a bloody but successful assault.

Today's history lesson was less about war-making and more about pie-making: we trooped on down to the confluence of Sugar Creek and Little Sugar Creek in southern Mecklenburg County, to the original birthplace of President Polk. There, in 1795, little James K. Polk (the first of ten children) was born in an inauspicious log cabin, a recreation of which adorns the site. We were guided in our journey of late 18th and early 19th century American frontier life by the High Docents of the Historical Cooking Guild of the Catawba Valley ("the premier hearth cooking organization of North Carolina"), who regaled us with pumpkin and apple pies, syllabub, "snowballs," doughnuts, wood smoke and history lessons.

From GG's armamenterium of period-specific items we obtained a solid 18th century outfit for both Caroline and Jack and a "good-enough" shift for Sam to wear. I am informed that children of that vintage would have been largely unshod at such an age, so we peeled off shoes and socks and out into the muddy drizzle they ran. It is remarkable how much fun kids can have if you will just let them be kids. Mud is really easy to wash off of bare feet, much more so than from shoes, and any remaining dirt hardly shows on the smooth-hewn wood floor of a log cabin.

The ladies of the cooking guild, who have been plying their craft of "authentic and historically accurate methods of 18th century hearth cooking and other historical foodways" for well over 25 years now, had clearly spent most of the morning preparing a feast for the visitors of the historic site. However, due to fortunate county food code restrictions, all of the food was solely for "display purposes" and none of the visitors were allowed to sample a taste. No such restriction applied to the "reenactors" themselves, our little critters included. So Jack spent most of the day crouched around the hearth or perched over the edge of the table, asking "can I try that?" or "can I have a bite of that?"


Above Left: Caroline, after swiping an apple; Above Right: the kids, sampling "the goods"


Full album of pictures is located here, courtesy as always of Google's Picasa Web Albums:

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!!

Well, we survived another Halloween on the war-torn streets of Old Starmount Forest. We were lucky this year to be protected by the powers of Captain America, overseen by a Very Pretty Witch, and had Fireman Sam on standby in case the backyard firepit were to get out of control.

One way to judge the success of Halloween - at least in my mind - is based on the net candy intake. With GG limiting the passers-by to just one small handful apiece (and only after they voluntarily said "Trick or Treat", no just sticking out your bucket expectantly at our house), and three full-fledged bucket carriers roaming the streets, I think we ended the night with more candy than we started. Jack and Caroline both ran out of room in their respective buckets, and Sam stopped off to empty his out because it was "too heavy."

We made out like bandits.



Sam sure was tuckered out after a hard evening of tricking, treating, and candy-eating. Too tired, in fact, to pick up his pile of trash which he cleverly left in the corner of the downstairs hall. But not so tired that he felt like he needed to let go of his glow stick - no, indeed, he fell asleep grasping it in his little sticky fingers. ;-). "Good night, sweet prince!"


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tar Heels On Hand

Tar Heels on Hand,
To steal the Thunder from the Sky:
Then take our stand,
As every man does right by Blue and White,
We'll give the Tar Heels a Hand,
And cheer them on to do or die (Yeah!)
All of us are for U.N.C.
and you can betcha we're proud to be
the Tar Heels on Hand!

We all trucked down to William R. Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill last weekend, to cheer our beloved Tar Heels to victory over the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest University. It sure was nice to have all these new Tar Heels On Hand as a family for the first time!

Three Future Tar Heels, Born and Bred

We got  everybody all dressed up in their Carolina garb - boy do we have a lot of it - and headed over to link up with Bud and Nana at Fearrington Village, where they were enjoying a long weekend of rest and relaxation. It was one of those classically gorgeous fall days in Chapel Hill, and we sat around all afternoon at Fearrington just enjoying being together.

A quick trip up to Chapel Hill, parked at the Boathouse and the kids got a kick out of riding the Bus into town. Had a tailgate at the Bell Tower with the NCBA and then on to our seats. We managed to snag some pompoms, and everyone had a blast cheering the 'Heels on to victory!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Labor Day Camping Trip to Curtis Creek

Well, we did it. We finally took the family camping.

We set off in the 2011 Sienna, two adults, three kids, one dog, and about 600 pounds of assorted gear, food, equipment, clothes, stuffed animals (yes, seriously), and a healthy sense of adventure in the left seat. The healthy sense of trepidation sat in the right seat.

Notwithstanding the typical crowds that can be expected on Labor Day weekend in the mountains of Western North Carolina, we managed to snag a drive-up campsite at the NPS' Curtis Creek Campground, just a few miles up a dirt road from the small town of Old Fort, NC. Continuing up that same dirt road about 5 miles and 3000' of elevation gain, one will pop out on the Blue Ridge Parkway at around milepost 350 or so.

We stopped off at Curtis Creek and briefly set up camp at Site Number 11, then piled back in the van with GG, who met us at the campsite. We headed up that little dirt road, winding and wending higher and higher through the tulip poplars, oaks and laurels as we watched the outside temperature gauge on the van drop from 71, to 68, to 64, to 62 (you'll lose around 3 degrees per 1000' of elevation gain). Once we hit the Parkway, we rolled west and North about 5 miles to Hwy 128, the turnoff into Mt. Mitchell State Park. You gain another 1200' or so before you reach the summit parking lot - by the time we got there, it was down to 57 degrees and alternating between sunny blue skies and misty foggy interior of passing clouds.

Mt Mitchell Overlook

We had packed a picnic lunch and feasted among the stunted pines, spruces and firs on the north side of the summit. Once sated, we loaded up and trooped off through the woods for the 1 mile walk to the summit of Mt. Craig, 6647' high and just up the ridge from Mitchell.

The last time I had passed through these woods, Anna and I had just finished the Black Mountain Crest Trail. It's hard to believe that was more than 7 years ago. The trail, though short, had a lot more up and down than I remembered. We made it mostly up Craig to a nice little rock outcrop, took a break, and then turned back. The kids were amazed to be able to see clouds passing by and around us at the same altitude. They are some good little troopers, scrambling up and down the rocks and running through the pines and ferns. They almost made it back to the parking lot before the issue of being carried ever came up.


Basically atop Mt Craig

Amidst the boreal conifers, on the trail back from Mt Craig
Upon our conquest of the balsam highlands, we returned to "Base Camp" where evening preparations began in earnest. There was a lot of "Why don't we have a . . .?" and "It's over there . . . no, not there . . ." as Doc attempted to navigate Matilda's backcountry packing routine. We got to try out our new Kelty Trail Ridge 8 tent, which slept 6 comfortably (including Dean, GG slept in her new van). Then Matilda and the kids went in search of firewood - which quickly turned into Matilda collecting firewood, while the kids and GG went rock-hopping in Curtis Creek. I went ahead and got the fire started and cut up some wood, and then turned to dinner - Hot Dogs and Mac & Cheese, with fresh-cut Canteloupe and S'mores for dessert. Yes, this was what you would call an "all-inclusive vacation."

Doc bemoaned the lack of wine in our alcohol-free campsite - surely the only drawback of this location is being locating in the "dry" McDowell County. I will concede than GG and I shared a small nip of single malt, purely for medicinal purposes. Doc can't quite stomach the heavy peat odor.


Monday morning comprised possibly the best part of the trip, waking up early and cooking breakfast in the out of doors, brewing up coffee and cocoa for my ladies. Doc and GG took Caroline out for an early morning stroll beneath the hardwoods while I put the finishing touches on the bacon and eggs and pancakes.


Monday, August 24, 2015

First day of school

Well, we now have two elementary attendants in the Shaw household. Jackson started first grade at Sternberger under the direction of Mrs Rogers and Caroline has the great fortune of being the pupil of the Great Mrs Poage (also known as Jackson's kindergarten teacher).  I thought it would be hard on Sissy, given her incredibly shy nature in unfamiliar settings.  But that girl relishes in opportunities to surprise me and I could not be more proud of how both of them have adapted to the life of a student.


We walked to school as a family on the first day.  It's 2 blocks up the street and the weather but about as perfect as it could have been.  I was the most nervous, wondering how it would go when we dropped Sis in her room.  So we opted to take Jack first and let her see how it went.  Thank goodness for our Aquarius.  He has so much of his Grandpa Bud in him.  He has never, ever, ever met a stranger.  He lights up the room with his quirky smile.  And he modeled a smooth transition perfectly. Not to be outdone, Sis stepped up to the plate. She may have been terrified on the inside but she didn't let it show. She walked right into her classroom, sat down at her desk, and kissed me goodbye.  No crying.  No fussing.  No "one more squeezie hug, Mommy!! Please!"  Just a smile and a wave and on to the next adventure.

So now there is only one left at Children's Corner Daycare.  Sam has been proud to announce to all the ladies at daycare that he is "the last Shawberry left here!"  I thought I'd be more nostalgic for our days of wrinkled knees and drool and thumb sucking.  I thought watching them go off to elementary school would be harder than this.  But, somehow, their eagerness to tug my hand down the path of life is just so much fun.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Great Day at the GSO Science Center

Well, after a hellish week of illness, late nights, meetings, other adult crap, elementary school open houses, and general end-of-the-summer craziness, we couldn't figure out where to go for lunch today. So we went to the Greensboro Science Center's The Fresh Market Cafe. A short lunch trip turned into a delightful and relaxing 3 hours cruising around the science center, checking out the new-born gibbon (Duke's little sister), the new Monkeys, the old Tigers, and a couple of copulating tortises. Just what we needed to restore a little sanity to our lives.

The floor of the lobby, by the big plate glass windows, also appears to be a great place to take pictures:

We would have taken a picture of our third child, but it took Jack a long time to poop. So he missed out.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Are You Ready For Some Futbol??

We got all the kids kitted out for soccer this fall while we were down at the beach, ransacking the Dick's Sporting Goods out on Mt Pleasant.

Of course when we got back to the condo everyone wanted to play. Sam surprised me by putting up some great defense against Jack's burgeoning dribbling skills, the post-block hand violation notwithstanding:

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Aquarius of the Aquarium

On the way down to the beach this month, Jackson really got going with some coloring and ginned up this prized piece of art entitled the aquarium. featured are all of the various sorts of sea creatures that Jackson expected to find down at the beach:

Little did we know we would have such a prescient Aquarius with us in the car. we ended up finding about half of the described number of animals plus a few more that were unexpected.

In total we saw: two bucks, several stingrays, a dozen or more sand dollars, a few starfish, eight or nine hermit crabs of varying size with shells from the size of a quarter to the size of a softball, schools of fish from minnows to menhaden, a whole lot of egrets and seagulls and pelicans, and a few dead jellyfish.
Oh, and Doc is pretty sure she saw a shark in shallows, stalking her and the young 'uns.