History Day Nationals

What a day. After a week of waiting, National History Day named its 2014 winners today at a three hour ceremony at Comcast Center on the University of Maryland campus in College Park.

Alas, Emma was not among them. Her website did not make the final round. Judges thought highly of it, according to their score sheets, but they clearly thought even more highly of others. It was a heartbreaker. She worked for months and months on this thing, she won and won and won, then lost.

Stopping by the White House
Stopping by the White House

But it was a great experience. A great bunch of kids and lots of friends made. And she pretty much had the run of a college campus with a pair of 7th graders for a week. I think it may be the single most important part of her education since she started Kindergarten.

Emma is already talking about next year. That was the best relief of all for me — she’s not soured on the process, just ready to do better.

Here’s a quick look at the trip.

Flag Day

flag-dayThere’s a tradition in my neighborhood. The night of June 13 every year, ranks of small American flags appear along the major arterial streets, for literally miles.

There are usually four per block, one on each corner and a pair on either side of the mid-block alley.

I’ve been in the neighborhood for almost 20 years now, and the flags have been a mystery all along. Until this year.

I was running my usual two-bridge route when I came upon Tom Edelstein, strolling down the sidewalk with a big pile of flags in his hand, on Cretin just up from Highland Parkway. He was sticking them in the ground and hoofing it down the street nearly as fast as I was going.

flag-install

I’d seen the guy before — on billboards along I-94. He’s a real estate agent and I guess he sells a lot of houses in Highland Park. And he was wearing his office’s “Team Edelstein” shirt. I ran into another “flag fairy” up the street, wearing the same shirt.

But the flags have no markings. No “sponsored by.” They just show up every June and remind everybody that drives through that it is yet another great year to be an American and that this neighborhood is proud to be so — the flags flutter on the boulevard sometimes for a week before the neighborhood kids come and snatch them away, ours for a frenzy of flag waving for the Fourth of July.

It’s a great thing.

Cousins, again

cousinsWe went up to my uncle Larry’s funeral today. He died June 5, at the Cayuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, ostensibly of renal failure, but he’d been ill for a long time.

It brought together six of the seven cousins on my dad’s side. Almost all of the grandchildren of Lawrence and Merlin Nelson. (Laura, uncle Larry’s middle child, died in 1993.)

Its probably the last time we’ll ever be in once place together. The family is far-flung, from Alaska to North Carolina. Larry had the furthest pull, with his family stretched out across the hemisphere.

But his funeral got me thinking again of his mom and dad, my grandparents: Lawrence died in 1986, Merlin in 2003.

I suspect we all benefited from what could only be described as the unconditional love of Larry and Merlin — although some from far away. My dad’s parents offered the unremitting impression that grandchildren were the greatest thing since earth and sky, and were to be indulged and doted upon and supported without interruption. You only had to drop by their house for a reminder that, for at least someone, on that day, the sun rose and set with you. And have some lemonade, too.

We cousins were standing after Larry’s service today, joking around outside the assisted living center where he last lived. I was thinking of how happy my grandmother would have been to be there, see the kids together again — I think it happened maybe once or twice ever, the last time probably 40 years ago.

I felt like I could still see a little of their light, Larry and Merlin. It’s a little dimmer yet with the passing of another, but it’s still shining on us through the shadows of now so many years.

Amazon 9 watt charger

charger-1

Here’s my contribution to the global apocalypse. It’s a black plastic cube about the size of a racquetball. It’s the mobile phone version of the gas sucking, carbon-dioxide spewing Hummer, except that it runs on good-old fashioned 46 percent coal.

It has about twice the output of a standard Apple wall plug, and man, it charges a phone, or a tablet or an iPod, in a hurry.

Theoretically, I could only plug it in only when I absolutely need to charge something, but inevitably, I forget to take it out, and it just sits there, plugged in and presumably drawing 9 watts of power without me.

I know it’s bad. But I can’t give it up.

Dianthus

flowers

I love this time of year in my yard because of one thing: Dianthus.

I love the blue-green grassy stems that grow all year long, and then in the first week of June — BAM! A big pink explosion, like fireworks at the top of a long trail of smoke.

They’re the most durable perennials at our house. They don’t really care if they get watered or not. They’re so thick that they choke out most weeds. I’d like to have a whole yard of them.

I used to be a little irritated by how briefly their blooms last, but now I just enjoy them for what they are: a big splashy surprise party for summer’s birthday, a technicolor greeting for the practically daily mowing chores left by the spring rain and still-tolerable sun.

Bulletin Board

Bulletin-Board

I was cleaning out some files in my desk today, and was looking over an old Pioneer Press metro section: I’d done an exhaustive analysis of the financing of the 2005 mayoral race. It look literally years to do all the historical data entry.

But when I opened the section, I found something else in Bulletin Board, the feature Dan Kelly runs at the paper — Facebook before there was Facebook. I remember this clip, but didn’t realize it had run the same day as my the story I’d written on the campaign.

Of the thousands and thousands of items of mine that ran in the paper, this remains the favorite thing I ever wrote in my 16 years at the Pioneer Press.

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion

Gettysburg-The-Last-Invasion

It’s hard to get past all the blood and guts of Civil War history, but this one does, like few I have ever read before.

This book is a phenomenal account of the turning point of the war with some amazing detail: the artillery barrage before Pickett’s charge was so intense it was literally knocking the birds out of the sky.

But I liked this book not so much for the maps and maneuvers it details, but the people: Allen Guelzo teases out the tangled threads of motive twined together in hundreds of participants of this battle and the war itself.

There’s the longstanding vanity of Union general Dan Sickles, the social order of the Confederate Army, flashes of cowardice and foolhardy pride. Guelzo lays out the vast continuum of battle troops and their capacity to run or fight. There’s a long discussion of the internal politics of the Union Army and the limits Abraham Lincoln had picking people to fight his war for him — and his own counterproductive attempts to rise above them. The winner turned out to simply be the side that wasn’t making things worse fastest.

But what really struck me is how even the most extreme endeavor — a campaign to subjugate another people by any means possible – hinges on personnel. All the training and perception and intention and planning in the world simply pale against the character of the people who are there when the shooting starts. As Guelzo tells it, the abilities and weaknesses of the combatants, and the relationships they had with each other, is what decided fate at Gettysburg, more than any martial prowess. It was proof there’s no fixing what can’t be.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers