Monday, December 30, 2013


December 30, 2013

I finally figured out that Boxing Day (December 26) wasn't about pugilism, like I once thought.  It might be about the tradition of opening the alms boxes in churches and distributing what has been collected to the poor in the parish or village.  It may, more widely, be concerned with gifting servants and tradesmen if you are a boss or employee.

Of course, that is the observance in the UK and the former territories of the British Empire.  Here at Leisure Lake, Boxing Day has morphed into Boxing Week and then Boxing Month, and will possibly become Boxing Forever.  Walter and I made the decision this fall to do one more (final?) renovation on our house.  Every other time, we have reserved at least part of the house as a sanctuary from chaos.  I must have been drinking heavily, because this time there is no such thing.  By choosing to replace all of the flooring, do interior and exterior painting in all rooms but one, and pull out and rebuild the kitchen and both bathrooms, I think we have doomed our lives.

The first step was easy enough (isn't that the way gateway drugs always are?).  We started with our bedroom--just enough cleaning, sorting, and storing to get our feet wet and feel good about the process.   We patted ourselves on the back for thinning our drawers and closets to make them manageable when we had to actually pack it all away.  

There were some humiliating moments.  Is it really possible that I had accumulated over 80 pairs of socks?  What type of snob needs enough socks to go almost three months without doing a load of sock laundry?  Hint:  if you can't close your sock drawer, even when a third of your socks are in a hamper somewhere, you have probably gone over the edge.

And what can I say about the 26 different knee braces that we pulled out of Walter's closet, some still in the original packaging, except, do you suppose we could become a vendor for Amazon's sports portal?

There have been discovered treasures.  The most obvious one was a written conversation between me and Erin apparently held during church when she was about a second grader and forgotten in the bottom of a purse last used who knows when.  Here is the first of 8 pages:

Erin:  I wont to riet to spek 
(I want to write to speak).

Mom:  Ok.  Do you want to go to Gina's after church?

Erin:  Yes.  What time is DaD cuming home?  
(Yes.  What time is dad coming home?

Mom:  Dad will meet us a Gina's.  You sang well and smiled pretty!

Erin:  I want to tok about what to tock about something.  I want you to think of one 
(I want to talk about what to talk about something.  I want you to think of one.)

Mom:  Do you think Cinderella will be fun?  What will it be like?

Erin:  I think I hav ben to Cinderella be for.  
(I think I have been to Cinderella before.)

Mom:  What did you do in Sunday school?

Erin:  I raed about Mary and Martha wan Jases cam to there hom   Martha wus rising around but Mery wus listing to Jeses and Martha sed why is my sister nat helping me  Jeses sed she is doing rite  she is lising to me  
( I read about Mary and Martha when Jesus came to their home.  Martha was rushing around but Mary was listening to Jesus and Martha said "Why is my sister not helping me?"  Jesus said, "She is doing right.  She is listening to me."

Mom:  That is a good story and you remembered it in good detail.  What are you hungry for?

Erin:  I dont no.
(I don't know.)

Mom:  What does Davis want (and passes the note paper to Davis, who is in high school)?

Davis:  I want the Fireman's Special, queso, and a breakfast taco (BTW, this is what he ordered every time during this period of his life).

Erin:  Is it all most over?
(Is it almost over?)

Mom:  Yes.

Erin:  Im tierd mom.  Can you see the firshers neet
(I'm tired, mom.  Can you see the [I don't have any idea what this is!]

Given her limited skill set at this point, I'll bet this written exchange served the purpose of distracting her for the entire sermon, if not the entire service.  Win!


At least now the floor of my closet is ready and available to pull out the old and put in the new and the bureaus and chests of drawers are movable.  The loft office hasn't been quite a one-day job.

Happy Boxing Whatever!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Lyndon's Christmas Message

December 25, 2013

We got a special invitation to Ohio for Christmas this year:

And consequently, Lyndon, the newest member of our family asked if he could do A Christmas Letter from the Buenger family.  He was so charming when he asked, that I was duped into it:
Hello Everyone in Blog-Land and Merry Christmus,
Of course, those people better show up back at the homestead sooner rather than later this morning.  I fear for their safety.  There is a tiny powdering of snow on the ground (just enough to make it fun to wee it away) and you know how terrible Texas drivers are with any hint of cold in the air.  They will probably slide all over the road on imaginary ice before they get back over, and Dad said I couldn't chew open any of the presents until Mimi and Oompa go back.  
Maybe it is colder in that big place they are staying downtown.  Mimi told us that when she woke up yesterday morning and pulled back the floor length curtains that the window and sill and all the window parts (sorry, slippery on those special human words) was covered with ice (I thought, "no kidding, it is 16 degrees outside and snowing") but then she said "ON THE INSIDE so thick that she couldn't even see out at all."  Then, she showed me a picture.

It wasn't just a little bit, like you can see in the picture, it was everywhere--maybe even a thicker than my nails, which dad complains about every time I jump up and snag his sweater or leave the little bittiest mark on his arm.  And I thought it was bad that they make me go out barefoot to do my business.  I would never consider sleeping in an ice room.
I think Oompa agrees with me.

Given a chance, I'm sticking with him.  He has the sense in in the family, not to mention style and civility.  I think Mimi was fooled by the way someone decorated that room she was sleeping in.  As if some cheap lights from Lowe's could transform a hotel room with ice into a holiday wonderland.  Sheesh.  

 Anyway, from the talk, this isn't like their usual Christmas.  They did something called shopping.  I felt like saying to them. . . like they do on all those really stupid dog videos. . ."Did you do this?" over and over again.  "Did you do this?  Did you really do this?  Mimi, look at me.  Did you do this thing called shopping on Christmas Eve?"  Unlike those dogs on the videos, she didn't even look sorry one bit.
I think they did this thing called shopping and whatever it is (because of course, I refused to go and stayed tucked into my crate in the middle of a pile of comforting and warm blankets) made dad VERY HAPPY.
In fact they all seem very happy, even though they have to bundle up like walking burritos every time they take me outside, even though they went to something called Easton Mall on Christmas Eve, even though they broke the news to me that they were eating Chinese food and not a "piggy pudding" for Christmas dinner this afternoon (actually I was a little relieved about this).   
Mimi said that you didn't have to have all that other stuff to have a great Christmas.  I think she is right, especially if you have three times as many laps to sit on and the occasional pistachio treat.   
Merry Christmas, everybody!   

Thursday, December 5, 2013


December 5, 2013


N_MandelaOut of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

It matters not how strait the gate, 
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul. 

I still remember memorizing Invictus.

I also remember posting this on June 10, 2010

We went to Nelson Mandela Square this morning after we picked up our game tickets.. . . .As I was looking for fans worth photographing, I spotted an ancient woman wearing a tall yellow and green hat, being led through the crowd by a young woman and man. I stopped to let them pass in front of me and saw that she was blind, crying, and smiling. Her young friend/relative explained that she had waited for years to come and touch the 20 foot statue of Nelson Mandela. She was 86 years old and had lived a very hard life under apartheid. Now she was gripped by the World Cup and ready to follow every match on the radio.

And this on June 29, 2010

Sunday, November 17, 2013


November 17, 2013

It is, of course, THAT time of the semester, and though I have largely survived to this point, and the outlook to survive completely and score a total recovery is positive.  It doesn't mean, however, that I don't play mind games with myself.

Back in the day (unlike the enlightened present) public schools didn't typically start junior high students into algebra, the course Davis conquered as a 6th grader.  We all waited to have Ms. Littlejohn in the 9th grade (1st period--7:08 every morning. . .and luckily it was offered in the South Annex, which was only two blocks door to door from my house, so I could stumble in on time.)  

Some of my friends' parents allowed them to enroll in both Geometry and Algebra II when we were sophomores, so they could get all their pre-reqs in for the full run of mathematics, through trigonometry, analytical geometry, elementary analysis, and calculus, but my mean ol' parents insisted that I stay well-rounded, and I had to take them one at a time.  Which meant that if I was going to catch up to my rightful cadre of peers on the maths track, I had to take trig and analyt in summer school.

Mr. Longest pulled that awful instructional duty (he must have been either really naughty or really desperate), teaching heavy-duty math from 7:00 to 12:05 five days a week, six weeks in a row.  He tried to make the best of being trapped with cheerless 15 and 16 year olds, spinning out terribly silly, long-winded jokes so that we weren't snorting sin and sec into our brains the entire time (imagine the potential damage that would do).   I don't remember any of the jokes, but they had punch lines like "Only Hugh can prevent florist friars" and "Silly rabbi, kicks are for trids."

Despite his best efforts, time weighed on our hands--and here is where I'm not that proud:  

Every day, when I got to class, I would draw a circle in the upper right hand corner of my desk.  I would then divide it into five equal parts and then bisect each part and then bisect all of the parts, leaving me with a circle that had thirty equal pie-shaped compartments.

At 7:15, I would shade in one of the pie slivers with my trusty No. 2 pencil:

By the time the dismissal bell rang, it look like this (except, much more all the same shade):

By the end of the summer, all 30 desks carried this brand.

Now, the confession.  When I have a stack of 24 mid-term papers or 76 mid-term exams or whatever, I do the same kind of tracking, making sure I know at the beginning how many more papers I have to look through.  I put myself on a schedule (whatever is appropriate--three per hour, two per hour, five per hour, something), and then I track myself--though not on the desktop anymore.

If you are interested.  I have thirteen four page briefs, due back to the students on Tuesday.  Then I will just face twenty-four homework essays (coming in on the 21th), 76 essay exams (coming in on the 26th), 6 final projects (coming in on December 6) and 76 final exams (also coming in on December 6). Can you tell I'm celebrating?  After all the exams, projects, homeworks, and briefs I have shaded my way through this semester, I really can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Be Brave

November 10, 2013

Twelve and a half years ago, when Erin was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, I never imagined where that diagnosis would take our family.  Obviously, some of it has sucked in ways that can't be expressed.  Walter and I would have gone to the moon and back to secure her survival.  You never want to hold your child down so that people can stick needles in them.  You never want your child to clutch and emesis basin like it is their oldest and best long-lost friend.

But this post isn't a complain or a whine post (if it was, there would be a different verb at the top of the page, you know like "Complain" or "Whine").

This post is an exhortation and an invitation.

First, the Invitation:  In two weeks (Saturday, November 23) you can run at the new obstacle and survival course over in Manor (on 290 on the way to Austin) called The Crucible.  This is a 5K race (and come on, if you can't run 5 you can walk it!).


The sponsor of the race is MaxCure Foundation.  This New York City-based foundation puts kids with cancer and their families FIRST.  My friend Richard Plotkin who is the grandfather of the "Max" in MaxCure claims that his friends doubt he is really from the political party he claims to be from because he gives away so much money (usually gift cards) to needy families.

Max Cure has chosen six families from Texas Children's Hospital to support using the proceeds from this race.  They were chosen in honor of Erin.  So if you run, you help these families and you honor Erin.

The Exhortation:  Be Brave 24 has even more meaning.  The 5K has 24 obstacles.  Each one helps you remember an hour in the day of the life of a child with cancer.  You can't avoid them.  You have to face them.  When you are a child with cancer (or their family) you live with cancer 24 hours a day.  This race will make that fact a little more real to you.  See if you can Be Brave-24.

You can check it out here at

Are you brave enough to challenge yourself to get to Manor and cross the finish line?  If you haven't decided yet, consider this:

Maybe you are taking yourself and the challenge too seriously.  Loosen up.  Have some fun.  Drive over to Manor and make a difference for some kids:  Caleb, Jason, Faith, Payton, Konor, and Nathan.  And do it in honor of Erin.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Long and the Short of It Redux

November 8, 2013

Last week I wrote about the long and the short of it.  And didn't think I would ever return to the topic again.  Until I saw this:

This is a chart of plot boxes built by MWBeck on the average dissertation length by number of pages by field.  I don't know Mr. (Ms.?) Beck, but I do understand how grad students find every which way to procrastinate instead of working on their dissertations.  

In this case, we can enjoy the fruit of the delay in so many ways that we couldn't have if Beck had cleaned the bathroom or gone on a long bike ride or decided to do yet another literature review in some tangential field before getting back to the serious, yet postponable task of actually writing on the dissertation.

So now we know how dissertations stack up, literally.

The top line?  

History--on average the longest dissertations completed for all of these various fields.

The second line from the bottom?

Mathematics--on average the second shortest dissertations completed for all of these various fields (after biostatistics).

Happily in the green box somewhere close to the middle?

Business Administration --which is as close as I can find to my field (management)

[My dissertation work, by the way, was an outlier on this scale--maybe only fitting in two-volumes when it was bound by the thesis office.]

Can you see the disconnect we have when discussing Davis's dissertation research with him?  As I find myself steering the conversation between Walter who finished his dis 34 years ago and like clock work, turned it into a book

And Davis who spends his time thinking rather than staring at a computer screen waiting for the words to come.  John Nash (A Brilliant Mind) earned a doctorate in mathematics in 1950 with a 28 page paper that had two footnotes.  I guess Davis's will be longer, but there's really no way to actually tell at this point.

I guess I am once again happy that there is room for the long and the short of it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Watch and Share

November 6, 2013

"Dialogue alone means nothing."

This video means a lot to me.  I'm friends with the wonderful people who made it and with most of the people in the video.  

Please join me and take a stand.  Watch.  Share.  Tweet.  Stand Up.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Long and the Short of It

October 31, 2013

Did you ever have children who wanted matching halloween costumes?  Was there a nine year age gap?  

This is how Davis and Erin solved the problem.

I was never very good with family photography and videography was an art never discovered.  I do wish I had a video of these two walking down the road doing their penguin waddle.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


October 27, 2013

When I go through old photos of Erin, I'm hard pressed to find any with her alone--maybe the occasional school pic or a candid working on a homework project.  More often they look like these:

Trick or treating as POTUS:

Group Chemo--we very rarely traveled to the hospital alone, though this was definitely a bigger than normal group.

Impromptu swimming at the Burchills, with Ayesha borrowing a suit from Erin.

Watching the Aggie Soccer team, en masse (what better way to keep warm than to travel in a pack)?

Heading out for a hike--always use the buddy system.

Even to the point of having your brother silk-screen matching branded shirts for everyone.

And we all know it takes a team to build a robot.

More than anything I can think of, Erin wanted her friends to get along--to love and support each other.  And it wasn't just a "Pollyanna-ish" desire for everything to be bright and shiny.  She would work on understanding the source of problems or hard feelings among her friend.  She would have them talk it out.  She would make peace.  She would get people together and find their common interests.  

It is with that inspiration that I started working with some like-minded folks a couple of years ago.  This summer we launched the Coalition Against Childhood Cancer, a collaborative network of organizations and individuals supporting and serving the childhood cancer community.

We had our initial member drive with 55 organizations and 15 individuals joining so far.  We had elected our initial board of directors this month, and Friday the board elected me as the President.

You can not imagine how humbling this entire experience has been and continues to be.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


October 22, 2013

For the first seventeen days of October, I didn't pay attention to much.  I got wrapped up, first in the government shutdown and standoff, and then, as the 17th approached, the possibility of a debt default.  Although I didn't have immediate personal consequences from the closure, I had friends that did.  I also worried about families that I knew of who had children trying (unsuccessfully) to enroll in clinical trials.  After I read about a single dad cafeteria worker at one of the Smithsonian Museums wondering if his landlord would wait on the $350 rent for the one-room he shared with his son, I added non-governmental contract workers who would not receive back pay to my list of people who were taking it on the chin because of the hold up.

When I finally looked up in the aftermath of the almost botched fiasco (with me still not having rainbow-tinted thoughts concerning the junior Senator from my state or for that matter anyone from the  particular caucus from my state every last one of whom voted "No" that night),  I noticed that the world continued on even as I had abandoned my role as close and keen observer.  

The mid-month rains helped raise the lake level enough that I could actually notice. We now look like we live in a natural wetland (though not really a lake yet), with water flowing through and around the field grass that had grown up on the lake bed after the big frac.  FYI, the shore birds really like this situation and have flocked to the lake, like, well, like flocks of birds.

The weather patterns have not been so kind in Australia where fires and (apparently) megafires (whatever that means) are raging.  The Tjoelkers are okay as of this morning.  Here is Elaine's self report (with my editorial add ons in parentheses):
The fires are in Springwood and Winmalee. Schools are closed and there has been an advisory to evacuate before noon tomorrow or plan to stay. We are leaving to spend the day at the Uni in Richmond (Between their house in Linden and Sydney. This is where Mark works) and then stay with Susan (for you local Presbys, this is Susan Phalen) over night if we can't get back. The fires are on the other side of the highway, nearer to the aquatic center (this is where Walter worked out when we were visiting, which just goes to show how close it really is), and we are not directly in danger. We are each packing duffle bags tomorrow and a few favorite things, but I fully expect to return to my laundry pile and dirty dishes You can google Rural fire service NSW (Here: I've done it for you: I zoomed in until I could actually see Linden on the map following along the A32), but it may still be hard to tell what's going on. Anyway, this has been going on since last Thursday - I am ready for rain!

We're still short of rain in the Brazos Valley, but I'm willing to share with New South Wales if you can figure out a way to get it there.

Not everything in the world has risen to the level of world economic cataclysm or devastating and unprecedented wildfires.  I have also taken in some less eventful news.

In the last few days, I have noticed several links to this story coming across my news feed:

"Mammals Urinate for 21 Seconds"

I was absolutely certain this was a hoax.  I mean, really?  The only time this happens to me is if I get the Spaten at the Irish Pub on Friday evening or if I wait for the commercial break during an EPL game.   Apparently, it is not a hoax.  It is true-ish.  It doesn't apply to human or mammals smaller than cats (think viscosity and surface tension as the game wreckers).  However, thanks to this observational breakthrough--that elephants on down the line to dogs and goats pee for the same duration and that duration is 21 seconds--we can now redesign water towers to make them more efficient.

And one final thing that has recently edged its way into my perceptual space:  marching band butt.

The observation was that I don't have it any more.  

When I was in the high school band, I could march for an hour playing a trombone and never miss a step or a note or run out of breath.  That high stepping action was the norm.  And I think it contributed mightily to a firm and perky set of gluts.  

Now, I can barely march a hundred yards (even if I leave my trombone at home) without needing a short break.  

Not that you will see me doing this.  

But I did put two and two together conceptually the other day, and decided that while walking is good for me, and I do about 15-20 miles a week, it does not give the old seater the tone that marching band did.  So, I have added marching to the morning walk (when it is too dark for the neighbors to wonder about that strange person high stepping on the dam).  I'll let you know in a few football seasons whether I have reclaimed my marching band butt, and simultaneous developed the exercise craze poised to overtake Sh'Bam.  You can guarantee I'm not going to call it "Prancercize."