Overcoming the elements

I've been training for the Indianapolis Mini Marathon this winter and spring as I have for the last couple years. Most days I really enjoy running for distance (not as much as these guys, who ran the breadth of the flippin' Sahara Desert). My favorite takes me along a canal where spring feels especially, uh, spring-y.

Today, though. Whew. Everything seemed to go against me. My legs were heavy. Breath labored. The Canadian Geese hissed at me. Turtles taunted me. Ducks mooned me (MOONED ME!). The frickin' daffodils mocked me, with an excessively cheery voice, I might add.

I'm proud to say. I finished feeling like if I can overcome hissing geese, taunting turtles, exhibitionist ducks, and loud-mouthed daffodils, I can accomplish anything. Maybe I could even run the Sahara — about 11 miles of it.


The Bananaplan

The day after Christmas, with distension of the belly due to broccoli casserole over-stuffing, my wife, Sarah and I decided to escape the holiday madness (and the chocolate covered pretzels on the kitchen counter) for the The Walmarts.

You, the reader, are probably saying, "The Walmarts!? The day after Christmas?! That's the very definition of holiday madness! And you're right. It's just a different kind of holiday madness.

We weren't headed to the The Walmarts just to people-watch, we had a tertiary mission of purchasing a game called Bananagrams, which we had a enjoyed playing the night before.

A short drive from Sarah's parent's home and we found ourselves in an overly-stuffed parking lot. In anticipation of the craziness inside the Big Box I said to Sarah, "Okay, here's our game plan. If you see someone going for the last Bananagrams game, you hit 'em high and I'll hit 'em low." To which Sarah replied, "Yeah, and then I'll hit the snack bar."



Many Thurdays past, two days before Halloween, I was standing in Rod Smith's kitchen enjoying some of his sister Jenny's world famous* curry. Parenthetically, I understand the term "world famous" is tossed around willy-nilly by just about every restaurant trying to convince you their dish is more impressive than it really is, but people have been ooh-ing and aah-ing across the globe over Jenny's curry.

Where was I? Yes, standing in Rod's kitchen.

Rod, with his back to the kitchen wall with an accent consistent with his South African heritage asked, "Ryan, have you ever done any acting?" A strange question I thought. It's the kind of question I would prefer to dance around. And I tried my best verbal two-step. "Um, not really. Well, I, uh, did participate in writing and performing in a, uhh, variety-type show in college, but I certainly wouldn't call what I did acting." Run! Ryan run before he asks another one, I thought loudly, but not aloud. His follow-up was too quick, "Would you be interested in playing Boo Radley for a party with my students this Sunday?"

Rod's curriculum at St. Richard's School, where he teaches English, includes reading and study of To Kill a Mockingbird, which culminates in a party where the students dress as a character from the book and celebrate over dinner and a screening of the movie.

"Your only line is 'I'd like to go home now,'" he said sensing my continued apprehension. Rod went on to tell me how he would like me to stand in the darkness outside the house where his students would be gathered until I am noticed. I was intrigued, but still not sold.

I wanted to decline, but I felt like my back was against the wall. I offered the softest acceptance I could muster, "Sure."

Later that night, I was complaining to Sarah about having agreed to accept this assignment. She reminded me that I was trying to live under the following pretenses: 1) say 'yes' more than 'no'; 2) choose adventure over safety. I try to live into these rules, but it doesn't come naturally. I'm uneasy with the unknown, mystery. I prefer safety, and am quite happy in my comfort zone, thank you. But Sarah had my number. I knew I had to do Boo.

I found the rattiest clothes I could and rummaged through Sarah's make-up bag looking for something to make me look sickly, like I had been in a cellar for 20 years. I opened one of her compacts and found some green something-or-other and dipped my finger then spread it around my eyes. Yes, I was looking quite ill. Perfect. "You know I have brushes for that," Sarah sniped as I looked at my green finger. Normally, I might have responded but I just stared forward emptily. I was, um, getting into character — goodness shrouded by mystery.

I arrived to the party site, found some dirt to smear on my clothes and face completing my ensemble and walked to the back of the house where Rod had instructed me to go. I stood looking into the room where Rod's class focused on the wall-mounted silver screen. I tapped gently. No one noticed at first. I tapped again. I saw a little girl's eyes widen. She tapped the girl next to her. They both screamed. Then everyone screamed.


Rod coaxed the chaos to quiet. He asked, "Would anyone like to invite this man inside?" Several volunteers threw their hands up. Then one by one students peeked outside and retreated. I couldn't blame them. Rod invited Boo inside. A little girl dressed as Scout Finch escorted me through the crowd to the front of the group. Some students asked questions, to which I offered short and nervous responses. Others simply thanked me for saving Scout and Jem's life.

I stood, back against the wall, enjoying every minute. I said my one real line and another girl dressed as Scout grabbed my arm and we floated through the crowd and she released me back outside. As soon as I disappeared from sight I was no longer in character. I was smiling ear to ear. On my walk back to car, it occurred to me, this experience was very much my Boo — goodness shrouded by mystery. I'm so thankful to Sarah and Rod for providing the encouragement and opportunity to find the goodness.

The following day I came home from work to find a 9 x 12 envelope from St. Richard's School with "Boo Radley" scrawled on the front. Inside was a thank you letter from every 7th grader in Rod's English class. It was page after page of goodness. I'd like to share some of the goodness with you:

Dear Arthur Radley,
It was nice of you to come all this way to Indiana. I never expected you to be there at the party. You were very brave to come here to the party. I know that you aren't used to having people around you, especially when coming to a party full of children. You are a very nice man Boo Radley. I thank you for coming to the party.

Dear Mr. Radley,
Thank you for coming in for us and acting out what happened in the book. I truly believed that the way you acted it out is the way it would have happened in real life. At first I didn't know who you were outside, and you kind of scared me, but that is good because in the book he didn't try to be scary but he was a scary person. I know you meant no harm as well. Thank you again for coming in to show us what happened.

Dear Mr. Arthur Radley,
Thank you for coming last night. I know being around a lot of kids can seem intimidating, but you did a great job. I enjoyed your company very much.

Dear Boo,
Thank you for taking your time and coming out to our party. It was something when you were just standing out the window. You really need to get out more. Thank you for coming.

Dear Mr. Arthur Radley,
Thank you for coming to the party last night. You definitely know how to make an entrance! At first, we were a little scared of you, but then, we realized what was going on. You made the night exciting! I wish you had stayed for dinner!

Dear Mr. Radley,
Thank you for coming and saving Jem and Scout. I know you are shy so thanks for coming out.

Dear Arthur Radley,
I would like to thank you for coming to our party yesterday. I know that it was hard for you because you hadn't seen kids in a very long time. I think that you handled it very well being yourself with a bunch of frantic kids screaming at you. I just wanted to say that it's okay. You did a fantastic job coming to talk to us. It must have been scary for you but I think you did well. You handled the situation nicely. I hope to see you again in the future. Again, I want to thank you for coming.

Dear Mr. Arthur Radley,
You did a great job of acting as Boo Radley. At first, I thought you were a criminal but then my teacher said it's just Boo Radley. You did a great job of acting.
Dear English Class,
Thank you for your kind words. It was my absolute pleasure to spend the evening with you. I learned a lot.

Boo Radley (or whoever I really am)


Happy Thanksgiving

I'm sure there will be a steady stream of what-I'm-thankful-for blog posts in the coming days. I find them all very uplifting. I find Thanksgiving very uplifting, actually. And when you add a Weber® charcoal-grilled turkey and an embarrassment of caloric riches, well, you've got a pretty fantastic holiday, in my estimation.

All that said, I'm not going to compile a list (not for this web log, anyway). Instead, I'm posting this video that pretty much sums up why my Thanksgiving will most assuredly be Happy.

I sincerely hope yours is too.


Anatomy Lesson

Bath time is Daddy/Simeon time. Bath Time (BT) is preceded by Naked Baby Time (NBT) and is kicked off with a little BT dance. I don't have any footage of the dance, but I do have a little glimpse of Bath Time itself. Hope you enjoy.


His Father's Listening Skills

I was showering last night, my back to the shower head when I heard behind me, plah-dunk. In the time it took me to think, "hey, that's a women's shoe in the bathtub with me" — plah-dunk — a matching shoe sat beside the first collecting the water the drain didn't.

"Sarah!," I called, "You might want to get in here..." Not in the shower, in the bathroom. Although I wouldn't put up a fight if she misunderstood me.*

Incredulously, Sarah said, "Simeon, I told you to put them in the closet." Counterproductive, I thought, to remind her that he's one year old. I think I did the right thing.

Sarah retrieved the soaked shoes and left the bathroom to put them in the closet, I presume. Ten seconds later pha-lopsh – a brassiere.

*Too Much Information, but too late. I can't take it back now.


Holding on | Letting go

This entry was supposed to be different. Producing web log entries has become more labored in recent months, and I had resisted all urges to blog about writer's blogkage. It would only sound like whining, I thought. Besides, I had my annual trip to Lewis Lake with my best friends and that would surely provide the impetus for new observations and stories. My time in Kentucky did not disappoint; I spent much of the car ride home mapping my next entry.

What I was going to write about was when I came home from the woods my son, Simeon, hugged me like he had no intention of letting go — and he didn't. I was going to write about how that gesture placed a fog over all the fun I had at Lewis Lake, and how I only cared about that moment. That's what I was going to write about.

Then MuShu, our family dog, died.

Shortly after we arrived home, MuShu slipped out the back door and through the open gate amidst the flurry of unpacking and related activities without us noticing. It wasn't the first time she had escaped. She would always take the same route we had walked her many times before -- leashed. I suppose she thought, I've done this a million times before, I don't need to bother my family with it, I'll just go by myself. But, she didn't have the benefit of us holding her leash taut in the face of traffic at the busy intersection of Talbott and 29th street, one block from our house. She didn't have us to look after her.

Some nice ladies found MuShu in the street and called the number on her little heart-shaped collar tag. I didn't drive fast; I was afraid of what I would find. When I arrived, I saw that these two women had moved MuShu to the sidewalk and laid her on a royal blue blanket. My heart plummeted. The strangers offered me their blanket, but I thought it important to hold her one last time. I thanked them for their kindness and made the difficult phone call to my wife, Sarah.

When I got home, Sarah and Simeon were visibly upset. Sarah wept over MuShu, and Simeon wept for us. I scooped Simeon into my arms and, well, he held me. Then he held Sarah — with no intention of letting go.


We'll miss you, MuShu. We'll make sure Simeon knows how much he loved you.


The Big One

On this day one year ago my son was born. Today I find myself nearly as speechless about the moment as I was then, which is why I think I'll just re-post the events as I documented them last year. I do think it's worth mentioning that the indescribable, uncontainable love I felt for Simeon the moment he was born has grown 365 fold.

Words Fail

4:56 a.m.

"Ryan! Wake up!" I sit straight up and look around the room for an intruder. "I think my water broke!," Sarah exclaimed. She wasn't lying. There was a pool of evidence right there on her side of the bed.


The car ride – 6:00 a.m.
Sarah's contractions have started in earnest. I don't know what I was thinking. Every time she began a contraction, I wanted to chat. That is when Sarah made the first of two rules – so far.
  1. Do not ask me questions.
  2. Do not tell jokes – I guess laughing makes contractions hurt extra bad
  3. I'm still waiting for the third rule.


Hospital arrival – 6:30

I dropped Sarah off at the door with the bags, and a nice lady asks, "Are you okay, miss?"

"Oh, I'm just having a baby," Sarah replied calmly.

I swear, she's Wonder Woman.


We're in our room now.

It's so strange to me that you ask a woman in labor to do a bunch of admission and insurance paperwork. I suppose it has to be done.

We're playing some music from the birthing playlist. Among those on the list, "Between My Legs" by Rufus Wainwright and "Here Comes The Sun" by George Harrison.


A friend of mine texts me, "Go Horny (The Noel Boy's in utero name), it's your birthday." I show complete lack of judgement by reciting this to Sarah mid-contraction. Dammit, I already forgot rule number 2.


Sarah quickly squashed the music with lyrics. There goes my dream of the head coming out to the sounds of "Here Comes The Sun (Son)".


Sarah is a superstar! She's endured most of her contractions while sitting on a birthing ball and digging finger nail marks into a wooden chair arm.


She's moved to the bed, laying on her side and focused intently on a photo of Charley Young Beach in Maui, where we were married. I've never seen her so focused.

By the way, our doula, Brielle has been a total Godsend. I'm good at the motivational speeches, not so good with the breathing part. I lack focus!


11:15 a.m.
Doctor Hurry is in the house. Sarah's getting ready to push!


I've never seen Sarah like this. I'm turning white and tearing up, not because of witnessing birth, but seeing Sarah in so much pain (no epidural).


Dr. Hurry is doing an amazing job. She said to Sarah, "You were made to birth babies, it just took us a while to get you pregnant." I think Sarah tried to laugh, but this is serious business.


Dr. Hurry apologizes to Sarah for blocking her view of the mirror that shows the birth site, Sarah amidst furious pushing says sweetly, "oh, that's okay."

11:52 a.m.
40 minutes of pushing, and less than seven hours after Sarah's water broke, baby Simeon David Noel arrived. He wailed as soon as he came out, as did Sarah and I.

Words fail.


Catching up with the Joneses

Sarah, Simeon, and I spent the Thursday evening prior to July 4th driving south east to Sarah's hometown, Morehead, Kentucky. I like our visits; the weekend moves along at a pace a little slower than what we're accustomed to at home. I'm pretty sure I've turned more book pages, fit more puzzle pieces, and taken more accidental naps in the Lewis living room than just about anywhere else I've been. One of my other favorite time-passers in Morehead is listening to stories.

Sarah's family members are prolific storytellers. Dinner and after-dinner times are chock-full with stories. Almost as amusing as the stories themselves is the pre-story ritual of establishing who the primary character is and to whom they may or may not be related. The pre-story ritual goes something like this:

"You know the Jones boy?"


"No, not Billy, his younger brother?"

"The one with the mole?"

"No, that's Johnny, the oldest..."

"Isn't he in jail?"

"He was in jail, but I thought I saw him mowing the Smith's lawn..."

It goes on and on like this. Sometimes we never actually get to the story, it's more of an exploration of someone else's family tree. I almost never know who Billy, Johnny or any of the Jones boys are, but that doesn't stop anyone from telling their story, and that's just fine by me.

Thursday night we were sitting on the back porch, sheltered overhead by the arbor and protected from mosquitoes by an army of tiki torches posted at every corner and nearly every point in between; Sarah's Dad finished telling some stories about a fellow named Alec (which is inexplicably pronounced "EE-lik"), when Sarah's mom, Jan, stepped up with my favorite story of the weekend.

Her story was about Doc Gray, a tractor mechanic and family friend, "who lives up Christy Creek." (He lives up a creek? I wonder if he's got a paddle.)

Jan was working at C. Roger Lewis Agency — the real estate office Sarah's Granddad established — when she heard Doc's voice in the reception area and decided to go greet him. Doc was standing there with a little boy and Jan queried, "Who's this, Doc — your grandson?"


"Well, what's your grandson's name?"

Doc cocked his head and stared blankly at Jan, "Well, I don't know. I reckon I always just call'em "Boy."



A month and about fifteen days ago, we took Simeon to the Indianapolis Museum of Art to have his picture made. Cliff Ritchey was the guy to make them, as far as we were concerned. Simple geometric shapes pepper the grounds of the IMA and it proved to be a nice little backdrop for our little Wonder. Hope you like them.