Saturday, July 5, 2014

Seriously! It's Just A Game!

Soccer. Maybe I am naive, but I never thought I would hear such vitriol about a sport from people with whom I generally agree about some of the the big things of life (like politics and religion). 

And the criticisms are pretty lame (in fact much of it boils down to "a lot of liberals like soccer so I must hate it.")

I know, I know. Most of these rants are meant tongue-in-cheek. 

Seriously though, the criticisms are revealing. They reveal people who are  uninterested in liking soccer. Which is fine! There is no reason why they need to. I can rail on and on about basketball being boring because I have no desire to watch it. 

But if you are going to criticize it, at least learn a little about the game. Most have not spent any time understanding the game. They are thinking primarily of the kid’s version of the game. 

Take Ann Coulter for example: 

Baseball and basketball present a constant threat of personal disgrace. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game -- and it's not a stroll on beach to be on ice with a puck flying around at 100 miles per hour. After a football game, ambulances carry off the wounded. After a soccer game, every player gets a ribbon and a juice box.  

She is comparing little kid's soccer games to professional hockey. Really? She has obviously never watched Clint Dempsey break his nose on someone else’s head (or was it a shoulder?). Not to mention that Brazilian player that cracked his vertebrae. 

I am not bragging about the brutality of soccer, I am just pointing out that you can’t make her argument if you have spent any time paying attention to the grown up version of soccer. 

Which leads me to MY criticism of soccer…and all other sports in this country and around the world. And Ann Coulter actually hits on this pervasive and troubling issue. She says: 

Most sports are sublimated warfare. 

So most sports involve men channeling their war-like tendencies into play. Fine. I get that at a certain level. The problem is that we are tempted to then raise the symbolic meaning of those sports to something noble (if we hold the soldier in high esteem) or we are tempted to be fearful of sports and moralize about how inhumane they are (if we hold the soldier in low esteem). 

Either way, we are taking sports too seriously. We are forgetting that sport is play. Watching it is entertainment. Pure entertainment. A distraction. Not a religious event (though some of the ceremonies and celebrations have all the marks of liturgy). Not a clash of civilizations or ideologies (though the intensity with which the fans defend their team and sport would lead you to believe otherwise). 

They are just play. Highly paid play. 

Perhaps Ms. Coulter would have been better off comparing kid’s soccer to kid’s hockey and kid’s football. And remind herself that the professional versions of those sports (all of them) are merely examples of society being willing to pay full grown men and women to play for their own diversion. And American football is no better than soccer at doing that. 

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with diversion or entertainment. Lets just remember that while sports can serve some good purposes, it is really all about fun.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Father, A Soccer Match and An Unexpected Free Market

As I am writing this, the Kennedy family is watching Spain play the Netherlands in the World Cup. Amazingly, there are at least five players on the field that we know (as in we can name them and have seen them play). 

But the far more amazing fact in this little vignette is the fact that we are WATCHING SOCCER…or should I say FOOTBALL. (the kids refer to football (soccer) and American Football (that other game that hardly uses feet at all). 

A little more than a decade ago I wrote an article about the evils of soccer and homework. My argument with both institutions was the time taken away from families. As far as I could see kids would spend long days away from home and family while at school, then they would spend a large part of the precious remaining hours doing homework and participating in organized sports. At the time, soccer seemed to be the biggest culprit (remember “Soccer Moms”?), but I was in California at the time (that may also explain my crazy criticisms of soccer as a sport). Here, in Texas, I might complain about American football, gymnastics, or dance taking time away from families. 

As I said, in the article, my crazy criticisms of soccer as a sport, were mostly tongue-in-cheek . However, in spite of having grown up playing soccer, I had long sense lost an great affection for the game and had never really cared for the professional level. Face it, few people do…in this country. Even when we lived in the UK (minutes away from the training grounds for a famous English football club), we sort of yawned in the general direction of the soccer world. 

Then about six months ago all that changed. 

It started with Jim’s intense need for a nap. 

The perfect place to nap, for him, is on the couch in front of the TV with some long sports event playing. However, with kids around, there needs to be a vigilant monitor of the commercials, especially with sports. American football, basketball and even baseball are riddled with questionable ads that our kids don’t need to hear. 

So, one Saturday afternoon the remote control stopped on soccer. And Jim’s head began to nod. Over the next half hour he fitfully napped with one eye open waiting for the commercials. But they never came. Not until half time. A whole 45 minutes of commercial free TV. And a love affair began. 

Needless to say, the napping happened less often, and he and the kids began to know the various teams in the Premier League (highest level of UK club football), have favorite players and debate the calls. We all began to talk about memorable plays and discuss the various rules and workings of the Premier League. 

(By the way, I was just interrupted by yells of “GOOAAALLLLL!” the Netherlands have tied Spain. An amazing header!)

So the build up to this World Cup has been big for the Kennedys. Our DVR is currently filled with games to watch and we carefully avoid sports headlines on TV or the internet, since we are about a day behind. 

But one thing I haven’t avoided is any discussion of the impact of soccer on American’s and American culture. I read one article which claimed that soccer threatens American exceptionalism. Of course the author thinks that is a GOOD thing. His theory is that becoming more global will decrease our love of our own country. Hmmm.

I also saw a segment on FOX NEWS’ The Five in which two of the hosts rail agains the game of soccer itself—it’s boring ("Nil-Nil*???Seriously?!"), it’s British (and therefore unmanly?) and there is no real strategy. 

I can see now how ignorant the rants are. But, I was there once—ranting ignorantly—so I can’t really criticize. 

Rather, at the risk of having to disagree with myself at some later date, I would like to make the case that soccer (as played in the Premier League) is more American than American football. 

Yes, I said FOOTBALL was MORE American than AMERICAN FOOTBALL!!! 

Wait! Don’t go! Hear me out for a minute. 

Okay, first, a little background on the UK’s Premier League. First of all, it is what it sounds like—the PREMIER league in the UK. Which means there are other leagues that are less…well…premier. You have to make into the Premier League. Each year there are 20 teams who play in the Premier League and each year the bottom 3 are relegated back to the lower leagues and 3 new teams are brought up. 

This is big. This means that even the worst teams in the league are motivated to remain competitive throughout the whole season. No one skates. It is not unusual for a top rated team to lose to one of those lowly last five at any time during the season. 

It is a free market. There is nothing fixed. You have a team in your town and you support that team and, if they get to be good enough, they make into the Premier League. That is where they make the big money. But, they have to keep on winning to stay there. Sure, there are some teams that rarely if ever get relegated, but there are a whole bunch for whom relegation is a yearly reality. It is not so much about equality of outcome, as it is about equality of opportunity. Everyone has a chance. Even the lowly small town team. 

This past season we watched one of those lower teams, in danger of being relegated, play a top team that needed to win in order to have a chance to win the league championship. They ended up in a tie. In regular season games that means that each team receives 1 point. (3 points for a win) That one point meant that the lower team remained in the Premier League for another year rather than being relegated. And the missed 2 points for the top team meant they had little chance of winning that year. You should have seen the celebration that the one team had when they won that coveted 16th place, and the glum faces on the team that ended up in 3rd. 

(by the way, the score of the game in front of me is Spain 1, Netherlands 5. Lots of screaming going on here!)

On the other hand, in American Football, there is anything but a free market. In addition to the fact that there is a set group of teams with no chance of some new team breaking in, the team at the bottom of the league has basically the same revenue stream as the team at the top. The income is shared equally among the teams at the top and at the bottom. There is not much incentive to do better. There are also salary caps, so the team at the top or bottom end up spending a similar amount for their players. And, teams are built through the draft which means the worst team gets first draft and the most successful team takes the last pick. Everything is about equality. Not so much about quality. And this “equality” is mainly “equality of outcome”—which is socialism. 

There are lots of other notable differences between soccer and other sports that we have enjoyed discussing and debating. But this approach to competition has been the most striking. Having lived in the UK, where the nanny state is strong and active, and being Americans who value the free market economy that is currently under attack here, we found it an ironic discovery that American football has a socialist bent, and UK Football is a thriving free market. 

(* FYI “Nil" is the British way of saying zero.)


Monday, May 5, 2014

DevOps Mom's Way: A Review of The Phoenix Project

I have so many books to read and to write about, but this is perhaps the most surprising one.

A month ago Jim began reading a book about IT (information technology--which is what he does at Chevron) and when I found out it was a novel, I scoffed. Seriously? A novel about IT? Is it a joke?

Well no, it wasn't a joke. In fact he said it was quite interesting. So, against all odds, I read it, too.

The book is called The Pheonix Project and it centers around a guy named Bill who is forced into a promotion he doesn't want. He suddenly becomes VP of IT and is given a few months to straighten up all the IT problems that the company has or they will split up the business and out-source IT.

So Bill sets out to fix things and finds it is worse than he thought. He is dealing with four entities: the business folks (the people directly responsible for the product that the business sells), the developers (guys who design applications to help the business sell the product), operations (the guys who manage and maintain all the applications and equipment everyone uses to do business), and security (the guys who make sure they don't break laws or get hacked).

What should be happening is that the business folks come up with an idea that will increases sales of their product using technology, the idea goes to the developers who come up with the application to make that idea happen, they hand it off to operations who implement it and maintain it and security makes sure it is all legal and safe.

However, that isn't how it works. It is more like this: business guys have "brilliant" idea (that is at least half impossible), developers promise to make it even more brilliant ignoring the impossible parts, the application is delivered late and full of weak points, operations implements and as things go wrong at the weak points they patch it with duck tape and magic, and security frets nervously about the risks. They are all like one big dysfunctional family and whenever anything fails everyone starts pointing fingers.

Spock is development. Scotty is ops. 

From what I understand this is a pretty accurate picture of IT in most companies.

Just in time, Bill meets a guru of sorts, a guy who is a potential board member and has years of experience in manufacturing, with hands-on experience on the plant floor. Bill is skeptical to say the least--what can a manufacturing guy teach an IT guy. IT is where all the geniuses go right?

But what he learns is that all the technology used by the business to do its business works much like the machines on the floor of the manufacturing plant. And that the process improvements that have been made to manufacturing over the years actually apply to IT.

What eventually happens is IT learns to work together (they merge into what is popularly called DevOps---look it up, you can find youtube videos and conferences all about DevOps) anticipating weak points before the applications go live and actually fixing broken things rather than using duct tape while pointing fingers. And the business folks learn to appreciate the challenges of IT and the value of IT to the company's bottom line.

The book has a happy ending, which is always a plus.

And I not only got a much better appreciation and understanding of what my husband does when he leaves us each day, but I got a lot of food for thought on the topic of process and work. I learned terms like work in progress (WIP--a tidy acronym for all the stuff going on around my house), planned work vs unplanned work (what Mom doesn't get that??), constraints (points where work piles up and sits undone --can anyone say "laundry room"), change management (how we keep up with all the little things we do to maintain a happy healthy home including everything from policing those hotspots--places where messes pile up--to dental check ups, to getting kids from point A to point B on time).

I can see now how that manufacturing plant has a lot to teach me about MY work: which is creating a home in which my family can grow and blossom.

One of the points made in the book that I found very striking was concerning  quality control. The example was a car manufacturer (I think it was Toyota) that had a pull cord at each work center. This cord stopped everything if something was wrong with the piece being made. So, lets say a car door was going through being formed, painted, parts attached to it and at some point something isn't up to snuff. The guy at that work center pulls the cord and all work on the plant floor stops.

When asked how often he thought this happened in a given day Bill thought about 20 times sounded reasonable. However the number was more like 1,000. One thousand times all work comes to a complete halt so that the problem can be fixed. And, in the long run, all those stops pay off in a product of higher quality with much fewer faults at the end of the line.

One thousand tiny interruptions as opposed to any number of giant failures a the end of the line.

When I read this I saw in my minds eye all the times I stop my day to correct a child's behavior, help him come up with a kinder way to approach his sister, help her deal with that frustration in a better way. Far from nagging, these gentle reminders and course corrections are how I help my children grow in virtue.

In fact, I do the same to myself. How many times do I confess the same sins. Each day is a struggle to bring my own selfish impulses under control and focus them on the goal*: the entire Kennedy Family in Heaven.

Pope Francis takes a moment to pull the cord and work on quality control. 

Saints are the product in this little factory. God provides the material and power and we do our best to refine the processes and pull the cord a thousand times a day to start over. Of course, we do that with God's grace too.

I think my attraction to this book is that the author is uncovering truth.

I am fond of making the totally obvious statement: Truth is Truth. It doesn't have to be about God to be universally true (though you can argue that it is all about God, just not always so obviously).

When something is true you can apply it to many different aspects of life.

This book was about IT, but it was about life too.

My life.

That is why I liked it so much.

*By the way, The Phoenix Project was based on a book called "The Goal" which is a novel about the Theory of Constraints. Jim is reading it now and I will read it next.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

{phfr}: A Childhood Unhurried

{pretty: because...well isn't it obvious?}

In case you are wondering, she is pasturing her sheep. 
No, we don't have any sheep. 
But why should that be a problem? 
She made herself a few out of styrofoam and yarn. 

She is also suspicious of anything she calls "modern". 
I often hear "that's too modern". 
Certain games are "too modern", 
many types of clothes are "too modern". 

In fact, the only acceptable clothes (at the moment) are long skirts with long sleeved shirts that have "puffy sleeves". 

She wants to look like this:

Lucia Santos, Blessed Francisco Marto, Blessed Jacinta Marto

{happy: because happiness is siblings who play along}

And now you know the source of the sheepherding instincts. 
A wants to be Jacinta Marto. 
And she wants her brother to be Francisco Marto. 
And her sister to be Lucia Santos. 
Most of the time they are amenable to this. 
But for A it is an all day thing. 

Ignore the is way too modern.
Of course, if her mother could direct her imaginative play she would focus the acting on the parts of the story 
where Jacinta helps her mother without even being asked and speaks sweetly ALL THE TIME to her brother and sister and, and, and....

okay, maybe even Jacinta herself wasn't that perfect. 

{funny: because she reminds me of my Italian Grandma who always posed with her hand on her hip}

I didn't tell her to stand that way, she is trying to look like the picture of Jacinta above. 

No, I would rather just watch her stroll around the backyard in her long skirt and "Jacinta shirt" and know that this is the fruit of an unhurried childhood: 
time to imagine yourself as your favorite hero. 

{real: because I know the reality of this picture--we were pulled over alongside a busy highway with trucks whizzing by and honking at us.}

This isn't our backyard, nor is it even a good picture, but I just love the stormy, breezy looking timelessness of it.
Definitely NOT too modern. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Forever Connected, On Purpose

Back in 2012 I wrote a quick blog post, called Forever Connected, about a concept that I think about quite often. You can read it yourself, but to sum up I told the story of how an “accident” of time and place meant that I was in close proximity to a man, (a husband, father, police officer) at the moment that he died. I did not see him or know it was happening at the time. But the incident affected my life in a small way that day. And I felt that I had been given a responsibility to pray for him and his wife and kids. I have tried to remember that responsibility often, along with the other people whose deaths I recall but are not family members. 

"None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself."Rom 14:7.

This morning we (Jim, the kids and I) were talking about the Scrutinies, those rites that happen during Lent and are part of the RCIA process*. (Stay with me…this is connected, I promise). And we decided to look up what the “Scrutinies” actually were. So we read aloud from the rite itself. There were intercessory prayers and prayers of exorcism. Through those prayers we learned that the Scrutinies are meant to be moments of cleansing and conversion for those people who are coming into the Church. They are meant to reflect on their sins and weaknesses and any remaining obstacles to following Christ with their whole being. The rest of the parish is also called to reflect in the same way on our own life with Christ. 

Our discussion then turned to the fact that these people really need prayer during this time, and wouldn’t it be nice if we knew who they were so we could pray for them by name. 

The Children of Fatima
Their story is another influence in our reflection, as a family, on the power of prayer and value of simply offering our little, everyday crosses as a sacrifice and a prayer for those who cannot or will not pray for themselves. 

This reminded me of something I recently did on impulse. One day we were at a weekday Mass, probably a Monday, and in the pew was a small program leaflet from a wedding that took place over the weekend. I started reading it, curious if I could tell anything about the couple from the program. I was searching it for signs that they were tuned into their faith and really understanding what they were being called too in this sacrament. But I really couldn’t tell either way. 

It occurred to me that I should say a prayer for them. And I did. 

Then, when Mass was over, I spontaneously folded the little program and stuck it in my Magnificat. For the rest of the week, whenever I opened my Magnificat at Mass I saw their names on the front of their pink and black program: Kimberly and Myles. I continued to offer little prayers for them. When the next month’s Magnificat came, I moved the program into that one too. 

I think perhaps I am called to pray for them…forever. A lifetime commitment to a pair of total strangers. 

"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 1 Cor 12:26-27.

And now to the idea. I have no sense of whether or not this is a common practice in any parish. Maybe it is an old idea. But we thought it was needed, and a 
ministry that a quiet little, uninvolved, not very socially inclined family like our own could participate in easily. 

What if we had a ministry of prayer for some of the people in the midst of life-altering moments such as marriage, conversion to the Catholic faith, and the Baptism of their first child. 

What if parish members were encouraged to adopt a couple who is married in their parish and commit to praying for them for as long as they can, or for a set amount of time, or for the rest of their lives. The commitment could be put in writing, in some sort of notebook. Or not. 

You could even take an extra step and connect each couple to an adoptive family who would host them for dinner several times over their first year, sharing their family’s life and commitment to Christ with this newly launched family. This would be good for both the just-married and for couples who are bringing their first child for baptism, another threshold moment. 

This sort of ministry would, of course, be helpful for new Catholics during the RCIA process as well as during that Neophyte year (the first year after initiation) and beyond. Those folks would benefit from both specific prayer commitments (anonymous or not) and from various connections to families throughout the parish. 

Focus on the core, what Blessed John Paul II called “the primordial sacrament”, marriage. 

One way to do this is to take advantage of threshold moments by making personal connections and providing support, social contexts and educational opportunities. 

And, may I add now, prayer

Of course, this doesn’t need to be an organized ministry. Anyone can consult the banns of marriage in their parish bulletin (do they do that in all parishes?) and pick a couple to pray for. I also know many parishes post pictures and or names of the adults who are coming into the Church, so you could choose one for whom to pray. 

But a more formal approach might give more parishioners a real, tangible way to participate in parish ministries when life affords little time, energy, or inclination to do so in the usual ways. 

Of course, the real reason to do this is because prayer works and these people need all the prayers they can get. 

There are moments in life in which we are faced with clear choices, moments when we have a chance to make a fresh start on a path that may be the difference between a life of discipleship or a life of luke-warm faith. Three of those moments that are easily identified by a parish are marriage, the baptism of your child (especially the first), and conversion to the Catholic Faith. 

Here is a way to influence those folks in the right direction--and it costs zero money (unless you buy a notebook to write it in), takes up zero facility space (except the space to store the notebook), and anyone can do it (from the youngest to the oldest, the least talented to the most, the extreme introvert to the social animal). 

What do you think? Does your parish do anything like this? Am I just re-inventing the wheel? 

*RCIA stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and is the way that non-Catholic adults become Catholic. The Scrutinies are prayers and such done at Mass for three Sundays leading up to the Easter Vigil when those folks receive the sacraments and are formally grafted onto the Catholic Family tree. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Everything's Better With Bluebonnets On It

No, I haven't moved again. Nor am I taking a computer break for Lent, though I have to admit I am trying to be a bit more detached from the internet world these days. 

So, the real reason I haven't blogged is.....OH! LOOK AT ALL THE PRETTY PICTURES ON MARY'S BLOG!!!

Seriously, go look. It is proof we are still alive.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

{p,h,f,r} She Did It!

What a beautifully perfect day! But, phew! I am so glad the day is over.

The dress she wore was the flower girl dress from her Uncle Matt and Aunt Mary Lou's wedding two years ago. 

Tuesday was the second First Communion Day for the Kennedy Family, since the first First Communion Day was a Twofer.

And they were both alike in their simplicity: daily Mass with little fanfare.

But the run up to the day couldn't have been more different. As I wrote four years ago, we had about a week to prepare for the celebration of M's and D's day (not that we hadn't been preparing them since birth! But that last part all happened so fast.)

However, with A the proximate preparation began almost two years ago with registration in the parish homeschool religious ed program for last year, and then the Sacramental Prep program for this year. And the stress began with the first Sac Prep meeting.

A has always been a bit shy. Even as a baby she was likely to burst into tears when a stranger (like a waiter or waitress) or seldom seen friend or family spoke to her or even looked at her. And that characteristic has been at least under the surface for her whole life. But this last fall, when she sprained her ankle and had to use crutches and at the same time began attending meetings for her First Sacraments she became acutely aware of "attracting attention". She didn't want anyone looking at her and would actually burst into tears, or at least growl and turn away when she got what she thought was undue attention.

She was amazingly calm beforehand and willing to pose for pictures. 

And so the worrying about her First Communion began. She remembered the little girl that received her first Communion at 9am Mass over a year ago and began to worry that Father would "make a big deal over it" (I don't remember Father doing anything but mentioning it during his homily and right before communion.) She didn't want anyone even knowing it was her First Communion and Father wasn't to mention anything and she didn't even want to go up first to Communion or ANYTHING!

We spent lots of bedtimes fretting about it: "I don't want to receive my First Holy Communion. I don't want anyone looking at me. I don't even want to have a celebration. It is too much attention."

There were lots of ideas floating around about how best to go about it, and ultimately she came up with the one that we went with.

She really wanted to ride a horse for her Baptismal Day outing. This was the best I could do without spending and arm and a leg. I didn't think it was worth $5. She did, though. 

We chose to have it on her Baptismal Day, at daily Mass. We would talk to Father first about how she didn't want a big deal to be made. It was to be just like any other Mass.

Of course the draw of the white dress was strong. And, of course a little tiara. And the cute white shoes.

At some point along the way she accepted that those things might cause people to actually talk to her and say nice things about how pretty she looked. And on that day, she was confident and "in the moment".

She wanted to talk to Father before Mass and she explained what she wanted. He agree not to draw attention to her. Then she sat down with her new First Communion Missal open to a page with a picture of the Child Jesus holding a chalice and a Host. Just before Mass started she told me she wanted to "have some alone-time with the Blessed Mother" and she went over to the statue to pray for a moment. She was a little upset about the flash of the camera when we took a picture of her. She came back with a worried look "Mama, someone is taking pictures of me!"
Father had told her to pray for her family on her First Communion Day. She decided to go to the Blessed Mother before Mass because she was afraid she would forget after Communion.

We assured her it was Papa and no one else was paying attention (though actually half the church was charmed by her). And then Mass began.

She went up with a grin on her face, received her Lord and Savior in Holy Communion and came back to her sit all smiley and full of joy.

After Mass she was mobbed by well wishers and she stood shocked and shy, but got through it.

And here we are.

The other night as I was saying good night, she said "Now I am worried about my Confirmation!".


round button chicken