Friday, October 28, 2011


October 28, 2011

I actually don't know a huge amount about chaos theory, and I don't spend too much of my time thinking about dynamism, randomness, or the importance of initial conditions.  If I did, I would drive myself crazy imagining what all that would mean for Erin and her cancer.  Instead, I want to talk about green shorts and the butterfly effect (from chaos theory--the illustrative example of a hurricane's formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks before).

We lived in Nashville when Davis turned five.  We had tried a few, but not many, activities for him before then.  Gymboree was a failed experiment because he would lag behind his class as they moved from station to station, preferring to sort and organize the bean bags or balancing hoops and line up the other equipment, rather than moving on to the next activity.  Kindermusick didn't work that well for any of us because, though we love to sing, we are all tone deaf.  T-ball was a stretch that we weren't ready to try because of basic hand-to-eye coordination issues.  Davis could run really fast and really far, but even his daughter-of-a-track-coach mother knew that five was too early to start track training.

Soccer seemed like an okay choice.

It fit his running and endurance skill set, didn't require much extra equipment or early hour practices (like pee wee hockey would have), and neither Walter nor I knew much about it (thus, eliminating, we thought, the idea that we would become overinvolved or overbearing sports parents).  We signed Davis up, he played, and frankly none of us remember much at all about that first fall of soccer. 

We moved back to Bryan (for the last time) over Christmas, and within a few weeks Davis brought home a flyer from school announcing Bryan Soccer Club sign up.  We were fairly indifferent but thought it might be a good way to meet some new kids, so we found the checkbook (there's always a checkbook in youth sports) and a copy of his birth certificate and headed out to stand in various long lines at Sul Ross Elementary cafeteria.

We got to the last table, where you turn everything in, and the woman asked if we were requesting a particular coach and if not, we would be assigned to a team, mostly based on geography and where Davis attended school.  I didn't have a coach in mind.  In fact, I didn't have a clue about who was coaching and who it might be best to avoid or try to suck up to or anything that a "with it" parent would have figured out ahead of time.  I was about to shrug and take pot luck when Davis piped up from behind me:  "I want to play on the green team."  His team in Nashville had green jerseys and gold shorts, which fit nicely with the rest of his wardrobe that prominently featured the color green.  The woman wrote "green" across the top of his application just like I had observed her write the coach's name on other paperwork ahead of me ("Coach Green?" I thought fleetingly.).

It turned out there were no green jerseys that season in the Bryan Soccer Club.  The compromise was to assign Davis to the blue team, because they had green shorts (a last minute addition to a popular coach's roster) .  I don't remember much about that season or several of the seasons after that.  Davis didn't explode onto the soccer scene.  He didn't have a preternatural gift with the soccer ball.  We didn't collectively fall in love with the "beautiful game."  We occasionally wondered how we could have connected to a sport that required thin shorts and a t-shirt for games in January and February.  

What we do remember is the coach, Steve Braden, a local physician and father of four, who never yelled at any of the players, even when they were particularly goofy and/or obnoxious, even when they scored on the other team's goal. . . on purpose, even when they ran their mouths instead of their legs and couldn't remember the simplest lesson from the previous practice.

How could we know that Coach Steve of the green shorts team would be Davis's coach year after year, through high school?  That because Davis stuck with Coach Steve, he continued soccer long after he dropped other sports options.  That he would embrace soccer as part of his personal identity?  That, in turn, we would adopt his love of soccer and become coaches and players ourselves?  That Erin's first and only sports longing would be to follow him onto the pitch?  That I would continue to coach Erin's team long after there was no logical reason for me to continue?

The flap of that butterfly wing. . . "I want to play on a green team" led somehow to a twenty-three year old theoretical mathematics Ph.D. student who has played soccer in Hungary, vacationed at the World Cup, and is as excited calling me about his goals and assists as he is about chaos theory and other math concepts that he studies and adores as much or more.  The flap of that wing has given Davis a way to stay fit, to compete, and to grow and improve into a much sought after teammate.  And Walter, Erin, and I have followed in the wake of the disturbance primed by that wing, possibly making our own little flap for the people that we pass as we travel along. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

World Clock

October 21, 2011

 If you look on the left column of the page, you will see I have put the Australian clock back in place. 

I added the international clock to the blog the first time when Davis studied abroad in Budapest so I wouldn't accidentally call him in the middle of the night.  When the Tjoelkers spent a half year in Canberra, I felt an even stronger need to have an easy way to figure out their time zone, since it also involved a day change as well.

The Tjoelkers are leaving again next Wednesday.  As there is no planned return to US residency, I may have to make the Sydney clock a permanent blog feature.

How do I feel about my besties moving?  I told them last night, when we celebrated Adam's birthday at Atami, I'm down-hearted, but I don't need an intervention.

Check on me again next week after they have left and see if I was wrong about the intervention. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


October 18, 2011

Sometimes things just break your way.  Last weekend was a case in point.  A number of months ago, Bridget Maloney the Children's Minister at Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church in Plano contacted me and invited me to do a lanyard workshop at her church.  How could I refuse when she told me she had read Erin's blog for years, and it would be just like having a rock star stop by the church (maybe I misheard and what she really said was that it would be just like a rotten stork stopping by the church)?  Anyway, she gave me a couple of dates that would work for her, and one of them was on my sister's birthday weekend.  

I chose that one, since I don't get to spend nearly enough time with my baby sister.

The highlight of my trip was not the journey there, that included an extremely slow motion tour of the central expressway.  I thought we had left Bryan early enough to make it through the heart of Dallas before rush hour traffic morphed from vicious to unbearable, which it turns out we did.  But, I didn't have the prescience of mind to realize that a fellow traveler was going to spontaneously combust on his way through town, close down two lanes, and back traffic up for miles.

Anyway, the weekend was great and Kat and Emma are really the hostesses with the mostesses!  Even the lanyard workshop for 22 first through fifth graders was amazing.  They listened and followed instructions so well.  They encouraged each (and made sure that everyone followed the three rules!).  This is my niece Emma showing off her progress:

Sunday was Children's Day at the church with Bridget giving the very moving  sermon and the children (including Emma, who totally grooved the anthem) singing and filling other liturgical roles.  I proudly displayed the work the children did in the atrium before and after church as a reminder to everyone that Children Can Make a Difference in the World and many people agreed (as demonstrated by their generosity).

This is the message I received from Bridget yesterday summing up the beauty of the experience:

I have been teaching a class on Sunday nights for 4th and 5th graders and last night I was bushed by 7:30 when we were ending (I'd been at the church since 6a.m.) When I said it was time to start cleaning up one of the girls said, "Wait! We have to tell them about Erin!" Some of the kiddos had not been there Friday night, and the ones who were there told them everything you had taught them. They remembered every detail. Thank you so much for sharing your delightful daughter!
And just to prove that I'm unable to focus on a single topic all the way through an entry (even a relatively short one), I have to include this image that I really appreciated:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


October 11, 2011

The post title today is more of a request than an admonition.  Have you ever thought about this?

Both Davis and Erin went through phases where I couldn't pry them from the bathtub.  The water would lose its heat and eventually become downright chilly, but they would just slosh around and delay getting out (too many cool bath toys, I think).  I always wondered why their hands and feet would look like this, but not the rest of their bodies.  I understand that this only happens to humans and macaques.  

I've read explanations of this shriveling:  the keratin on our skin wears off of our hands and feet so they absorb more water; it's a sign of dehydration; water is a hypotonic solution and is trying to enter our skins to reach equilibrium.

Here is a more satisfying solution that fits the theory I had.  Our wrinkled fingers and foot soles are creating treads to ensure greater traction in slippery situations, just like car tires

Here's a second thing to consider:

Do you use  I don't.  But maybe I should.  Most of you know that given the choice, I would pick a non-chain restaurant over a chain restaurant.  As a business school professor, I also understand that chain restaurants often have a boatload of competitive advantages over non-chains in terms of long-term survival. can actually help level things out in some surprising ways.  Not only do good reviews help independent restaurants (call me Captain Obvious), but the effect is much greater for individual non-chain restaurants than an individual outlet of chain establishments.  In addition, the existence of yelp dilutes the market share of chain restaurants, because consumer reviews substitute for the reputation that chains. 

Finally, I have something for you that is not science, or even scholarship.  It's opinion.  It's opinion, I want you to think about.  I read this on a blog written by someone I don't know and have never met:

 "But the only thing that makes me more bearish is the way that America denigrates intelligence and studying.  It's taken for granted that in America, there is mutual exclusion between being well-liked growing up and having very academic hobbies.  The captain of the chess team is assumed to have trouble getting dates.  If you are in high school and win lots of math competitions, people assume you're below average in admiration by peers.

In China, getting good grades makes you MORE popular.  The valedictorian is usually very popular.  And respected.  It automatically gets you points.  In America, it automatically drags you down in the eyes of your peers.
I think this is the single biggest factor that could lead to America's decline.  Everyone wants to be loved and respected by their peers.  Making that at odds with pursuing intellectual activities is very damaging to maintaining the status as the land of innovation." 
These words made me pause and think.  I'm not sure I agree.  I didn't ever felt cast aside by my peers in school for taking academics seriously, and I'm pretty sure Erin and Davis didn't either.  
BUT, I do have a growing sense that my particular skills set that mainly involves using my brain, is less valued and less appreciated today than over the course of my whole life and that my particular profession has less credibility than it has my whole career. 
All I can say is: think for yourself.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


October 4, 2011

Some things smack of unfairness and other things are just tough to explain.  Here's something that is both:

Really, Uma has been on the green bean diet for TEN AND A HALF MONTHS!  It started well over 300 cans ago.  I don't know why she still looks like a dually (is that what non-Texans also call those heavy duty trucks with four-wheels in the back?).  

 I don't understand it, and for a girl with such a beautiful face, it's really unfair to be so wide in the back end.  The before view here, shows that not much has changed since last Thanksgiving.

My mother and I are reading A Tale of Two Cities for the mother/daughter book club, which is to say that my mother finished it several weeks ago, and I have barely met Madame DeFarge.  That is not what is unfair and inexplicable.

What I can't figure out and what pains my heart is that I actually read this book cover to cover (without resorting to Cliff's notes and without skipping over the hard bits) when I was in high school.  It claimed the number two spot on my all-time favorite book list for decades.  I can quote both the opening paragraph and the closing lines even to this day.


I read along in it every evening, sure that something will ring a bell.  I keep waiting.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zippo.  

How does this happen?

And this is not the only book that I can't recall.  Walter and I teach adult Sunday school.  We have read--and not only read, but studied and taught--books that made really big impressions on us when we studied them.  I can remember their titles now, and usually their authors.  BUT besides a vague and possibly inaccurate recollection of their main thesis, I couldn't tell you much about them.

If Cherokee People by Paul Revere and the Raiders, popular when I was a sixth grader in 1971, comes on the satellite radio, I sing along without stumbling over ANY of the lyrics EVEN IF I DON'T WANT TO SING ALONG AND EVEN IF I THOUGHT IT WAS A DUMB SONG AT THE TIME.  This happens, and I can't even remember the characters in my second favorite book of all time?

Can you tell me that's fair?
Can you explain it?